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Swindon lawyer's cuts fear over asbestos cash
THOUSANDS of victims of asbestos-related diseases and their relatives face having compensation payouts slashed under Government reforms to the legal system.
Changes to the ‘no win no fee’ system could affect claims made by victims of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to the deadly substance.
The proposals include a computerised ‘portal’ scheme originally set up to assess low value car accident claims being extended to cover mesothelioma cases.
Lawyers may no longer be able to claim success fees from defendant insurers but would have to retrieve up to 25 per cent of the compensation from their clients.
The Government has agreed to exempt mesothelioma sufferers from the reforms while it consults on the plans and is due to report back in the autumn.
Leading industrial disease lawyer Brigitte Chandler warned the changes would hit many thousands of victims and their families.
Ms Chandler, who is based in Old Town with Charles, Lucas and Marshall solicitors, said: “The idea is that mesothelioma claims will be put into a digital portal system where a set formula will determine how a case proceeds.
“At the moment a successful claim attracts a lump sum of damages on top of legal costs.
“As it is these are already much lower than in other Western countries.
“The reforms might mean that victims and their families will have to go to people like junior legal executives who won’t have the expertise to pursue large complicated cases.
“If they go to a senior lawyer with the expertise to pursue the case for the maximum amount of damages they may have to foot most of their costs themselves. It will be a grossly unfair and unequal system.”
The portal system is also intended to speed up the time it takes to deal with claims, but opponents argue complicated asbestos cases risk being over-simplified.
The Swindon Railway Works employed 16,000 people at any one time who were exposed to the chemical and the use of the substance was widespread at other factories.
Ms Chandler said: “You can’t compare their claims to those of people who have suffered whiplash or bruising. Many of these former employees have died horrendous deaths and have lost absolutely everything.
If the Government does push on with the reforms, the next battle will be in the Commons.
Ms Chandler said: “I have spent my life fighting for justice on behalf of people who have suffered diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos.
“I believe the victims are entitled to the full amount of damages, which in this country is already much less than in Scotland, Ireland and many countries in Europe.
“I encourage anyone who is concerned to contact their MP.”