The Ministry of Defence has finally bowed to pressure and recognised that it needed to act to correct an obvious injustice in the current treatment of service men and women who develop mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure during armed forces service.
As the law currently stands, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are protected under S10 of the Crown Proceedings Act from being sued for any injury or illness caused prior to May 1987.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer, currently incurable, caused by exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. The condition generally develops decades after the exposure to asbestos has taken place. Consequently, service men and women who were negligently exposed to the deadly dust while on HM service before 1987, but who develop mesothelioma much later, are unable to claim compensation from their employer at the time, the Ministry of Defence.
Given that the danger of asbestos causing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses was well-known by the mid-1960s and the state acted to control asbestos industries and protect workers within those industries as early as the 1930s, the balance of power is greatly stacked in the MoD’s favour, to the detriment of veterans.
The great irony is that no such bar affects civilian employees of the Ministry who may have worked alongside Forces personnel and also developed mesothelioma as a result of simultaneous exposure to asbestos dust.
Many of those adversely affected will have been exposed on board naval ships where asbestos was used widely to lag boilers in engine rooms and heated pipework around the ships, without being given appropriate advice or protective equipment to wear when that insulation was being applied or removed.
Financial compensation available
Whereas civilian victims of mesothelioma are able to claim state benefits including, a one-off lump sum payment and also possibly sue the Ministry for compensation, veteran sufferers have been restricted to claiming a War Disablement Pension or applying to the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.
Last month though, Mark Lancaster, the Minister for Defence, announced that as of April 2016, veterans will be able to opt for a one-off lump sum payment of £140,000 instead of small, monthly, war pension payments. While this sum may still be less than a civilian might receive by way of compensation and benefits, it is welcome news for those service personnel who may yet develop this awful disease. The Minister has also indicated that those who have already been diagnosed with mesothelioma, ought to be treated equally.
This change has finally come about thanks to the efforts of the British Legion and many other campaigners.