Justice for Victims of Asbestos Related Diseases

I was pleased to play a part in getting legislation changed so that workers who had been exposed to asbestos in the routine course of their work were recognised. Action on Asbestos played a major role in informing and advocating, ensuring that politicians listened and acted.

Cathy Jamieson, LAB

Asbestos disease kills 5,000 men and women every year in the UK. Countless numbers of families have lost loved ones as a result of the killer industrial substance.

Clydeside Action on Asbestos (CAA) has led the fight to gain justice for Scots affected by asbestos and launched a series of campaigns to restore the right to pursue compensation for victims and their families.

CAA were at the heart of the campaigns that lead to the following Scottish legislation: Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Act 2007; Damages (Asbestos Related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009; and the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011.

Each campaign served to close loopholes or address deficiencies in the law that had a negative impact upon the levels of compensation that the courts could pay to victims of asbestos related disease. The 2007 act is perhaps the best and most profound example of achieving such an outcome through campaigning for legislative reform.

Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Act 2007 addressed an unfair and cruel dilemma that faced victims of mesothelioma. Before the act, victims of mesothelioma could pursue a claim for damages on their own behalf but only if they were prepared to accept that their family would not be able to pursue a claim for emotional harm after their death. So a victim of mesothelioma could choose to pursue a claim and to secure compensation which would help ease their last days, but in so doing they would prevent their relatives from being able to pursue claims after their death.

CAA, through its campaigning activities, convinced the then Scottish Government to address the invidious choice faced by victims of mesothelioma. The 2007 act provided that where a victim dies of mesothelioma relatives should retain the right to sue regardless of whether the victim had successfully obtained compensation before their death.

The Scottish Law Commission had previously looked at this issue and had recommended the need for change. CAA were able to use this as the platform for campaigning on the issue. CAA engaged in wide political discussions with members across the chamber. CAA worked with colleagues in the Trade Union movement and wider civic society to convince the Scottish Government to take legislation forward. They were supported by healthcare professionals, personal injury solicitors and local councillors and officials.

Phyllis Craig, senior welfare rights officer and a director at CAA, said “The victims of this terrible disease were going to die and they are being put in a position where they had to make an agonising choice – do they take the money now so they can live their life and enjoy it or leave it for their family after they die?

“We thought that was morally wrong, we fought against that and the Scottish Government supported it. We got a change in the law so now the person can take their damages and after their death their family can come back and claim damages for their own loss and dependence”.

The success of this campaign was recognised when Clydeside Action on Asbestos won the Public Campaign of the Year title at the Scottish Politicians of the Year awards in 2008.

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Page last modified on 7th June 2019