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Written on 21st October 2016 by Laura Magson

A debate in the House of Lords in 2015 revealed that insurers in Britain are failing miserably to fund asbestos related cancer research.

But why do British Insurers have a duty to asbestos victims

Britain has a long history of asbestos use in the workplace. Many of these asbestos related workplace activities were able to take place as insurers were willing to insure the business and specifically the use of asbestos within it. This we believe places a positive duty on insurers to pledge vital funds to asbestos research and to assist asbestos victims.

We are also aware that the Association of British Insurers (“ABI”) has also pledged on numerous occasions to provide vital funds to asbestos research related charities, though sadly the funds pledged are not nearly enough to satisfy the deficit of funds needed each year.

Boyes Turner note that sadly, thousands of people are diagnosed with asbestos related diseases every year, many of those diseases are fatal such as mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer. Asbestos victims often pursue legal claims against their previous employers with the insurer having to pay both compensation and the victims legal fees. The British insurance industry by pledging vital funds to asbestos related charities would not only be helping to find a cure for asbestos related diseases sooner, but would also be alleviating their own liabilities as cured asbestos victims would be compensated less than asbestos victims diagnosed with a terminal disease. In this sense it would also be a commercially sound venture for British insurers or the ABI to pledge regular funds to asbestos related disease research.

So which insurers were found in the debate to be funding asbestos disease research?

The House revealed that only 4 out of 150 insurance companies had been contributing voluntarily to a mesothelioma research funding scheme, this is just 2.66% of the British insurance industry.

Lord Alton then revealed during the debate that the number of insurers voluntarily contributing to mesothelioma research had dropped to just 2, just 1.33%.

Lord Alton proposed a statutory levy on the insurance industry to fund asbestos research stating that a small contribution from each of the 150 insurance companies could transform mesothelioma research completely.

Lord Alton went on to reveal that the 2 insurance companies  (Aviva and Zurich) actually donating to asbestos cancer research were donating a combined £1 million over two years to the British Lung Foundation’s mesothelioma research programme.

Lord Alton stated,

“Although I commend Aviva and Zurich … … £500,000 a year for just two years does not come close to addressing the multi-million pound funding deficit experienced by mesothelioma research. It does not deliver sustainable funding; it relies on the good will of two companies, which themselves complain that the load is not being fairly shared, and nor does it deliver the promise made to the House when we voted on a statutory provision. It is unfair and unrealistic to ask two firms to be responsible for 100% of the insurance industry’s contribution to mesothelioma research.”

What levies do British insurers pay towards asbestos victims?

British insurers were all required to pay a 3% levy towards funding the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (“DMPS”) 2014. This is a scheme set up to compensate mesothelioma victims were the negligent employing company was dissolved and no insurer could be traced.

Between 2014 and 2015 the 3% levy generated a £7.8 million surplus of funds.  The government decided to repay these funds to the insurers, much to the dismay of asbestos campaigners.  The levy going forward was then reduced to avoid a surplus occurring again.

The purpose of the levy was to assist mesothelioma victims and the British insurance industry does not in our view do enough as it is to fund asbestos cancer research.

Boyes Turner believe the surplus £7.8 million could have been better spent by British insurers collectively agreeing to:

  • Donate it to mesothelioma research
  • Donating it to mesothelioma victims
  • Donating it to mesothelioma related charities
  • Donating it to the NHS or hospice’s who treat mesothelioma victims

Boyes Turner would call on British insurers or the ABI to pledge more funds annually to asbestos related cancer research.