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Asbestos justice fight

#HeartUnions week: delivering justice for asbestos victims
UniteLive team, Friday, February 15th, 2019

For the fifth and final part of our #HeartUnions series this week, we hear from Unite member David Trigg and Unite solicitor Robert Lemon about why they ‘heart’ Unite’s legal services.


Robert highlights how deaths from mesothelioma, the incurable cancer of the lining of the lung caused by breathing in asbestos, are on the rise – last year alone there were nearly 3,000 fatalities.


“Sadly, research shows that construction workers are most at risk to exposure to asbestos especially when undertaking maintenance, refurbishment and demolition work,” Robert explains.


He points to a letter from David Trigg, who is chair of the Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team (DAST), reproduced in part below about why it is vital to seek Unite’s legal services if you’re a union member:


“I am involved in the fight for justice for victims of asbestos diseases. As such I receive news cuttings from family, or solicitors, of victims of these terrible diseases.


“Almost all ask for former work colleagues of the victim to contact the claimant’s solicitor, and give any experiences of where the claimant could have been exposed to asbestos fibres.


“Upon examination it can be seen the victim based upon their occupation, and the employer, could well have been a member of a union, possibly one that now forms Unite.


“So, what is the problem? It is that in the vast majority of these cases, the legal firms, acting on behalf of the claimants, are firms that are not union firms, they are ‘high street’ or ‘television/newspaper ad’ firms.


“Again, what is the problem? Most of these firms, also undertake work for employers, and the insurance industry.


“If that is not enough to put one off using them, they can, in law, deduct up to 25 per cent of the clients compensation, as a reward for succeeding with the case.


“High street solicitors may only agree to take a claim, if a victim takes out expensive legal expense insurance to cover the cost of medical reports and other expenses.


“The premiums for these policies are thousands of pounds. However, these insurance premiums can no longer be recovered from the unsuccessful defendants. Instead high street solicitors deduct them from the victim’s compensation.


“The legal services provided by Unite are the best available to its members, and the members family, and is free with membership. Victims receive 100 per cent of all compensation.


“Unions maintain asbestos exposure databases. Memories fade and people lose touch with work colleagues. Unite’s database contains details for more than 12,000 members. Unite’s solicitors have access to this bank of potential witness information. Union solicitors have decades of experience dealing with similar claims.


“If you know somebody who is diagnosed with an asbestos related disease, then ask them if they are, or were, at the time of any exposure to asbestos, a member of a union. If the answer is yes, tell them to contact that union immediately. Unite has a scheme for reopening the membership of the client.


“It is also useful to point anyone you know with an asbestos disease to their nearest asbestos victims support group. Go to http://www.asbestosforum.org.uk to find your nearest support group. These groups are the people to go to for advice on benefits, and support for sufferers of asbestos disease, and their families.”


Robert outlines three ways that we can ensure asbestos justice – firstly, by joining Unite and maintaining membership even in retirement; if you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, immediately record the details on Unite’s online asbestos database. If you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease immediately contact your Unite regional legal officer.


  • This article first appeared in Unite’s Building Worker magazine.

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