Official JUAC response to the proposed government reforms regarding mesothelioma claims

Since 2010 Julie Winn, our York-based legal specialist on asbestos, has been Chair of the national Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC). Below is Julie’s submission – on behalf of JUAC – to the government consultation on reforming mesothelioma claims…

Julie WinnDear Sirs

Further to the extension for submissions I write on behalf of the Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) to endorse the Response submitted by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK to the Consultation Reforming Mesothelioma Claims.

JUAC is a non party political campaign group.

JUAC consists of national representatives from NAHT, ASCL, NUT, NASUWT, ATL, VOICE, UNITE, UNISON, GMB and UCATT.

The aim of JUAC is to make UK Schools and Colleges safe from the dangers of asbestos.

It is the view of JUAC that the existing claims process for mesothelioma victims provides a sound route to justice for victims who have very limited time in which to seek redress.

When a claim arises from exposure to asbestos in school the levels of exposure are usually much lower that those you would expect to find in heavy industries, such as ship building, rail and construction. However the low level exposure has often been over a long period of time. Experts know that long periods of low level exposure are known to cause mesothelioma. Mesothelioma claims brought as a result of exposure to asbestos in UK schools and colleges are extremely complex. Not only is it important that a specialist lawyer deals with the case it is also vital that the Judges hearing the case have experience in dealing with mesothelioma victims and a good understanding of the evidence and the legal issues.

The RCJ specialist Judges are a vital part of the justice system for victims of mesothelioma.

The fast track also ensures that a mesothelioma victim has the earliest opportunity to give evidence to the court. When a victim is given a fatal diagnosis this is absolutely vital. Cases are fundamentally reliant on the memories of victims concerning their daily routines over long periods and the maintenance activities in the school and the location, extent and condition of the asbestos in the school buildings in which they worked. It is vital that the victim has the opportunity to give evidence in person.

It is the view of JUAC and this is shared by members of the Asbestos in Schools Group that:-

Unnecessary and costly delay in front loading causation and quantum evidence could prejudice the chance for victims to give their evidence and this could adversely affect the prospects of success. School claims are complex and require a significant amount of investigation. Often schools have not retained the relevant corroborative documents and with increasing numbers of schools moving to Academy and Free School status the risk of documents being lost or not transferred to the new entity is likely to increase. Case are also heavily reliant on expert medical evidence about the latency period and causation of injury. Low level exposure remains a contentious issue. An analysis of the relevant state of knowledge and the likely fibre exposure levels by a suitable expert is absolutely essential to the success of the case. Early disclosure by defendants and their insurers of key documents relating to the type, extent and condition of the asbestos in the school, maintenance, repairs and renovations, asbestos surveys and management plans is vital. Often a pre-action disclosure application is required due to the defendant’s failure to provide information. The existing pre-action disease protocol, the ability to make pre-action disclosure applications, the RCJ fast track and show cause procedures address these difficulties for claimants for who time is of the essence in securing access to justice. The proposed insurance industry driven changes do nothing to improve the situation for claimants. The proposed fixed costs regime will act as a deterrent to solicitors not wishing to take on this type of complex high risk work potentially leaving victims of low level school exposure without representation.

JUAC therefore agrees with the submissions made by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK and wish through this submission  to endorse its full support.

Julie Winn

Chair JUAC

Accidents and Disease, Editorial, Julie Winn,
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