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Payout Hope for Victims of Asbestos

Payout Hope for Victims of Asbestos. The Journal (Newcastle, England), June 14, 2006

Byline: By Paul McMillan

Government acts to amend legislation

Thousands of former Tyneside workers whose health was blighted by asbestos could finally receive payouts.

After years of campaigning, a proposed change in compensation laws has been welcomed by families and MPs.

A legal victory by the insurance industry last month made it harder for victims of mesothelioma, and bereaved relatives, to bring a successful case if they had been employed by more than one company.

The test case involved a compensation payout to Sunderland widow Mary Murray. The 84-year-old was awarded pounds 45,000 in March 2004 after her husband John contracted the fatal illness through exposure to asbestos during his time as a welder in various Wearside shipyards.

Mr Murray died in 1999, but one of his employers, British Shipbuilders (Hydrodynamics), argued it should only pay a portion of the compensation because it had only contributed towards 42% of Mr Murray's asbestos exposure.

Another test case concerned Sylvia Barker, 58, of Flintshire, who was awarded pounds 152,000 in the High Court three years ago for the death of steelworker husband Vernon.

But now the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and Work & Pensions Secretary John Hutton will amend the Compensation Bill, now going through Parliament, to improve the system.

GMB Northern and Thompson solicitors of Newcastle, who represented Mrs Murray, have welcomed the proposals.

Ian McFall, national head of asbestos litigation at Thompson's, said: "The Government has shown a real compassion and a commitment to sufferers. This is exactly what we've been urging it to do.

"We said we wanted clear, swift and decisive action. This amendment will restore the right to full compensation and benefit thousands of mesothelioma sufferers and their families. It's vital that this amendment becomes effective without delay."

Tom Brennan, GMB regional secretary, said: "I'm glad the Government has acted to restore justice by ensuring that those whose lives have been devastated by this terrible disease will receive full compensation".

About 1,900 people die in the UK each year from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen which is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. With its history of heavy industry, the North East has one of the highest rates for cases.

Lord Falconer said: "The Government is acting quickly to help claimants suffering from this terrible disease to receive the compensation to which they're entitled as soon as possible.

"I intend to bring forward an amendment to the Compensation Bill to provide that in these cases negligent employers should be jointly and severally liable, so that the claimant can recover full compensation from any relevant employer.

"It would then be open to that employer to seek a contribution to the damages awarded from other negligent employers."

Christine Knighton founded the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund in honour of her husband who died in 2001 after he was exposed to asbestos while serving in the Royal Navy.

The 59-year-old from Wallsend said: "I'm delighted to hear something's being done and it's been done at the highest level. There's been an awful lot of talk. I hope that this does lead to something because people don't have a lot of time ( it's terribly important."