For the past 17 years I’ve been helping patients with mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases, access state benefits, support and compensation.
In that time, although there have been many legal challenges brought by Defendants and their insurers, all designed to prevent claims succeeding or to reduce the bill to the insurer, there have been fewer significant changes in terms of additional elements of loss which claimants and their families can hope to recover in a civil claim.
The fundamental aim of civil compensation in these claims is to put the injured person back in the position they would have been in, had it not been for the Defendant’s negligence which has caused their mesothelioma. Clearly, in these cases, there are limits as to what can be achieved for patients through the legal process.
Generally, provided a Claimant can secure an admission or judgement on liability against any given Defendant, they will recover a lump sum for the illness and its effects and any financial losses, past and future, which directly flow from or will be caused by the illness.
Typically, these will include loss of earnings or pension, costs of care and assistance, replacement of services which the patient provided before they developed mesothelioma. They will also be able to recover medical and related expenses.
For a long time now, perhaps the past 15 years or so, the standard treatment for meso has been chemotherapy, sometimes radiotherapy and palliative care, all available on the NHS. Recent developments in mesothelioma research have meant that many new drugs are being trialled at specialist centres, as we heard earlier from Ian Jarrold of the BLF and Dr Szlosarek from St Bart’s hospital.
The promising developments in immunotherapy drugs not yet licensed and available om the NHS for meso, provide hope for patients in terms of potential improvements in quality of life, symptom reduction and extended life expectancy. Of course, the science is still young and more trials and studies are needed and funding of this valuable research must continue so that hopefully, one day soon, there may be a prospect of mesothelioma being a chronic controllable condition which patients can live with, rather than an incurable illness.
As lawyers though, these medical developments allow us to do more to help our clients with meso as we can now seek to recover the costs of immunotherapy within the civil claim, given that the treatment is not available on the NHS yet. Of course, this won’t be appropriate or desirable in every case but the possibility of including a claim for the considerable cost of this treatment needs to be discussed with clients at an early stage.
The possibility of participating in a drug trial ought to be discussed with patients who are considering treatment options with their medical teams. For those near the major trial centres, in and around London, this is happening in many cases but there are still many patients in other areas who are not being made aware of this possibility.
Where a client is interested in immunotherapy treatment as opposed to taking part in a blind trial where they may receive the drug or a placebo, their solicitor should be able to arrange for them to be seen by a specialist in oncology, such as Dr Szlosarek, to be screened for suitability for various treatments available to private paying patients only.
Provided the consultant considers there is likely to be some demonstrable benefit to the patient, the cost of the treatment can be claimed from the Defendant or their insurers. They are unlikely to pay the full costs at the outset, so the initial stages of treatment can be dealt with by obtaining after admission of judgement, an interim payment and if the treatment proves to be working, then the full costs can be claimed.
An increase in life expectancy does impact on the overall valuation of the claim and so this type of claim requires careful handling by specialist solicitors and clear and regular communication between them and their client or the patient and the treating doctors, to achieve the best possible outcome for the patient.
Free initial advice for those who would like to make a mesothelioma claim as a result of exposure to asbestos.