People who developed a fatal lung disease after coming into contact with asbestos through family members have begun a campaign for compensation.
The BBC has been reporting that the victims, mainly women, were often exposed to asbestos while washing their spouse’s clothing.
However they fall outside a compensation scheme which only covers those who contracted the disease directly at their work.
Exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma – a type of cancer that mainly affects the lining of the lungs. Victims can attempt to identify the insurance policy for the company they worked for and then pursue a civil claim.
If that is not possible then the UK government diffuse mesothelioma payments scheme, introduced in 2014, can provide compensation.
However, neither of these options are open to the family members of employees who, for instance, brought home clothing covered with asbestos.
Euan Love, from Digby Brown solicitors who are representing some of the victims, said the government should consider extending the scheme to this group. Mr Love said;
“The negligent act is identical for the man working in the premises and the man bringing home the overalls to his wife and her being exposed in that way.
There is a potential argument that it is discriminatory against women as they are disproportionately affected by their inability to seek compensation either through the insurance policy or through the diffuse mesothelioma payments.
They are left to rely on state benefits funded by the taxpayer.”
A DWP spokeswoman said the scheme was designed for people who contracted the disease because they were exposed to asbestos at work. She added:
“But we know there will be people who develop the disease after coming into contact with asbestos in other ways, which is why we have a separate scheme to provide people with the financial support they need.”
Trish Doig is one of the women who are thought to have become ill because of exposure to asbestos brought home on the clothing of a family member. She stated;
“I think I came into contact with asbestos when I stayed with my aunt and uncle in the 60s. My uncle worked for a Dundee boiler company and they worked with asbestos all the time.
I think the fibres came home on his clothes, he would give me a lift to work in his little van which was full of asbestos and I think that is where my contact came from in the 60s.
I think the fibres were all around his van and anyone inside his van was exposed to these little tiny fibres that you couldn’t even see.”
Doctors initially assumed she must have worked with asbestos when they gave her diagnosis. Tricia is now always breathless. She said:
“I was shocked. I’d never heard of this mesothelioma. Quite horrifying. I don’t do very much now. I still try to do housework and I still cook but as far as doing anything energetic, I find that quite difficult.
I find I don’t have the energy for that. And when I do try to do too much then I just get breathless and I have to sit down.”
Her husband Ally Doig insists their fight is “not about the money”. He said;
“My feeling about it is the sheer injustice of it, that the government recognised in 2014 that there were lots of people who were left unable to claim because companies had ceased to exist or their insurance companies couldn’t be traced.”
He agrees that the government deserves credits for at least introducing a compensation scheme.
“Unfortunately the eligibility criteria for it is limited to people who have acquired the disease directly through their own employment,” he said.
So anyone who has acquired it – for example women washing their husband’s clothes – they’re excluded, they’re just not eligible for the scheme at all.
I just think that really in this day and age that’s just not right. I think all citizens should be entitled to expect the same treatment under the law.”
Trish Doig said she cannot understand why people in her position receive so little.
“I think it’s wrong that they do what they do, because the way I look at it is that I didn’t ask to get this disease but I have it,” she said.
And if there is a way of some compensation, whether it’s a lot of money or a little money, then it would be quite nice to think at least someone’s listening out there.”