Mesothelioma: still under the spotlight
For those dealing with mesothelioma litigation, there has been a period of judicial calm since the enactment of the Mesothelioma Act 2014 and the decision of the Supreme Court in Zurich Insurance PLC v International Energy Group . In the medical and research world, however, there is much to talk about.
Kennedys were delighted to attend a seminar at the House of Lords on 1 November 2016, jointly arranged by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the British Lung Foundation. Leading doctors, professors and bio-chemists spoke about how the very nature of a mesothelioma tumour makes it difficult to eradicate and explained the steps being taken in research. There was considerable optimism about genuine progress and the research being undertaken towards treating the disease.
Sadly, while the prospect of an effective treatment may now be real, the scale of the problem does not seem to be met by a corresponding optimism. In his presentation to the Lords, Sir Anthony Newman-Taylor, Director of Research and Development in National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, spoke about the prospect of a further 50,000 cases in the UK alone, with claims continuing until the 2050s. If, as predicted, the current presentation is not a legacy issue, UK Plc and its insurers face an ongoing and significant cost exposure.
Despite the optimism alluded to above, research to date has not found a cure. In line with our understanding, it is unlikely that a complete cure will ever be found. Instead, what the scientific community is looking at are ways to treat the tumour so that it becomes manageable and enables victims to live longer and with a greater quality of life.
One of the leading experts informed the Lords’ forum that progress in immunotherapy can be likened to training a person’s immune system to react in the same way as a sniffer dog is trained to sniff out a particular drug. In the field of radiotherapy new techniques are being trialled where targeted radiotherapy seeks to eradicate a diseased area of tissue without doing the same to the healthy tissue in its vicinity. The forum was advised that it is hoped that further information on the progress and success of these current trials will be forthcoming in 2017. We await the outcome with interest and hope.
The last government announced a £5 million contribution to the development of a National Mesothelioma Centre. This, coupled with the funding already being received from the ABI and insurers Aviva and Zurich, has enabled a considerable injection of much-needed cash into this research. A philanthropic businessman, Victor Dahdaleh, has also matched the government’s £5 million.
A changed litigation landscape?
Do these positive signs for mesothelioma sufferers translate to a positive outcome for insurers and their insureds? In particular, will we see:
- Claimants looking for provisional damages in the first instance to see how long and how effective new treatments are?
- A decrease in the level of damages in respect of nursing care and aids and equipment as more effective treatment relieves the need for care?
- New heads of loss claiming for these potential new treatments and therapies to be provided privately if, as is suspected, the initial costs of treatment will be largely prohibitive to the average sufferer?
While questions remain, it is evident that the mesothelioma space continues to move, bringing with it ongoing considerations for all involved.
Related item: Mesothelioma: justice for all