U.K.’s Amicus Decries Insurers’ Opposition to Asbestos Claims; “Ambulance Chasers”

December 14, 2004

Amicus, the U.K.’s largest private sector union, announced it will issue a statement condemning insurers, whom it accuses of “attempting to shirk their responsibility to compensate up to 75 percent of asbestos claims in a High Court challenge.”

According to the Union the insurers are “challenging the right for workers exposed to asbestos to claim compensation for pleural plaques, a calcification of the lungs that can be caused by exposure to asbestos.” It estimates that there are around 14,000 such cases a year in the U.K., and therefore the test case “could have far reaching consequences for thousands of workers who have been exposed to asbestos over the past 50 years.”

Amicus also said it will denounce “dubious non-lawyer claims companies which are fuelling insurers claims of a growing compensation culture.”

The Union’s General Secretary Derek Simpson explained: “Insurers are being given ammunition by unscrupulous ambulance chasers to attack a legitimate class of legal action. Asbestos is not yesterday’s problem. Amicus and its lawyers are determined to ensure that workers suffering from asbestos related injuries due to the failure of employers to protect them have the right to compensation.

“Amicus is receiving hundreds of calls a week in response to the union stepping up its campaign to compensate asbestos claims and fight back against the claims farmers,” he continued. “The union has created a database, which is a structured permanent register detailing cases of asbestos exposure. The database will be used to ensure that union members suffering from asbestos related diseases have a better chance of winning their legal case than other claimants do.”

The bulletin described Pleural Plaques [PP] as a “legitimate injury worthy of compensation because it causes scarring on the lungs; it shows an increased risk of developing a more serious asbestos related injury, and leads to anxiety as a result of fear of developing an incurable asbestos related illness.” The average award for such cases in thre U.K. is around £5000 ($9550), but claimants can return to court if more serious asbestos related illness develops, where more substantial damages, from £10,000 to £15,000 ($19,100 to $28,650) are usually awarded. *

Amicus accuses the insurance industry of “attempting to strike out this legitimate class of legal action and is being helped by unscrupulous ambulance chasing claims farmers who are taking ‘scan vans’ vehicles equipped with X-ray equipment to UK towns that once had asbestos industries to plunder for pleural plaques cases.

“Insurers are claiming that an increase in pleural plaques cases is evidence of the so-called compensation culture and that scan vans are fuelling the increase. But the real cause of the increase is the widespread and indiscriminate use of asbestos in many industries until the early 1980s, and a failure by employers to protect workers. One of the worst affected industries was shipbuilding, in which several of the men whose cases will be decided worked.” It noted that a “lagger [a person who installs insulating materials] who worked with asbestos has a 1 in 10 lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma, the risk increasing as he gets older. The disease has wiped out a generation of men.”

* Ed. Note: By contrast, a study published by LRP Publications that examined recent trends compiled by Jury Verdict Research found that the average jury verdict in asbestos cases in the U.S. is around $1 million.

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