On 24 July, the government issued a consultation entitled 'Reforming mesothelioma claims'. The main aim of the proposed reforms is to ensure that claims are resolved quicker. One can only welcome reform that will result in a swift resolution for the client, particularly in view of the fact that, given the very poor diagnosis of this aggressive disease, many claimants unfortunately die before their claim is settled. However, the question has to be asked: will this proposed swifter resolution come at a price?
For claims where there is a traceable insurer, the government proposes the introduction of a dedicated pre-action protocol for mesothelioma claims (MPAP), with these claims being resolved within six months and more straightforward claims within three months. All good so far? However, there are understandable concerns amongst claimant lawyers that the system will not result in proper access to justice and claims will be under settled.
The question has to be asked: is it possible to reasonably resolve a mesothelioma claim within such a short time period? Mesothelioma claims are notoriously difficult and require specialist expertise and very sensitive handling at an incredibly difficult period in the claimant's life. Utilising expert lawyers comes at a price - will such lawyers be able to commercially run these cases within whatever levels of fixed recoverable costs are set? Based on the incredibly low fees for road traffic accidents and the new fees for Employers' Liability and Public Liability claims, we think not.
Let’s face it, the government really isn't interested in the plight of lawyers; it clearly considers the profession to be full of 'fat cats'. But what about the poor claimant who is not only suffering from a terminal and aggressive cancer, but may also, through no fault of their own, be faced with using the services of a lawyer who has no choice but to do less work on these cases, whilst the defendant, their former employer, can rest on its laurels knowing it can rely on its insurance company and the best defendant solicitor out there to ensure it resolves the case as quickly as possible with the lowest possible damages. Swift justice? We don’t think so!