Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to review how veterans of the British armed forces are compensated for asbestos-related disease after being questioned in the Commons over the unfair treatment of former military personnel suffering from mesothelioma.
Many people who have been exposed to asbestos dust or fibres can develop life-threatening diseases, such as mesothelioma, many years after exposure. In the case of the British armed forces, asbestos was used to insulate pipes in military ship boiler rooms for many years after World War Two and, according to research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in the next few decades over 2,500 Royal Navy veterans will die from mesothelioma.
Under current laws, the amount of asbestos compensation that armed forces personnel can claim differs from civilians. Some soldiers cannot claim at all.
How is Asbestos Compensation Different for Veterans?
Under section 10 of the 1947 Crown Proceedings Act, the Ministry of Defence cannot be held liable in tort “for death or personal injury due to anything suffered by a member of the armed forces.”
This was repealed in 1987, but it still means that the MoD is not required to pay compensation for any injuries or accidents that occurred before 1987.
All British armed forces veterans who were exposed to asbestos many decades ago, therefore, are currently not able to pursue a civil claim against the MoD. They are, instead, reliant upon a war disablement pension, which can be a fraction of the compensation that civilians can be entitled to for similar asbestos-related diseases. Furthermore unlike civilians, soldiers cannot take a lump sum from their war pension, so this can mean that some mesothelioma sufferers who die shortly after diagnosis can end up with very little.
To illustrate the discrepancy, the average value of a civil claim for a 63-year-old civilian diagnosed with Mesothelioma is £180,000. One year’s worth of was pension paid at the maximum rate for non-married ex-navy personnel is a little over £31,000.
Zoe Sutton, specialist military accident lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “I believe the MoD should use their discretion to allow civil claims to proceed in some cases, such as when our former soldiers and sailors are diagnosed with fatal diseases caused by exposure to asbestos many decades ago.
“They should be offered compensation equal to that of civilians as the current discrepancy goes against the Armed Forces Covenant which aims to prevent former military personnel from facing a disadvantage because of their service.”
Indeed, the Armed Forces Covenant was referred to by David Cameron, who said: "when we make a promise to our military that, because of the sacrifices they make on our behalf, they should not have less good treatment than other groups of people.”
He has promised to review how veterans are compensated for previous asbestos exposure and confirmed that Defence Secretary Michael Fallon is “looking at it.”
We welcome this announcement and hope that the Government offers a solution soon to enable equal access to asbestos compensation for our armed forces veterans.
Zoe Sutton is a Senior Associate solicitor at Slater and Gordon in Manchester specialising in Military Personal Injury claims.
Slater and Gordon are one of the UK's leading experts in mesothelioma compensation. We have offices in England, Scotland and Wales, and offer home or hospital visits for people who cannot attend our offices.
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