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The Scottish Executive's Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill, now going through Holyrood, will change the law to allow full compensation to be paid to living victims of mesothelioma.

The bill aims to reverse the current situation whereby victims receive only a modest award whilst they are alive yet their families would receive substantial sums once they were dead.

Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, typically in workplaces such as the Clyde shipyards. Once diagnosed the disease has usually reached a stage where it can kill within just a few months.

Currently someone diagnosed with mesothelioma must choose between claiming modest damages while alive, or sacrifice their own comfort so relatives can claim more substantial sums after death.

Solicitor-advocate Frank Maguire, of  Thompsons Solicitors, which represents 500 claimants, said “the majority of victims chose not to claim alive in order to maximise pay-outs after death. He told MSPs the dilemma often led to tensions within families as sufferers chose not to claim, while their relatives urged them to put themselves first.”

Phyllis Craig, of Clydeside Action on Asbestos, told the scrutinising committee: "I think it's very unfair that people who should receive damages in life are being forced to make that decision as to whether they should wait and receive nothing. They get no recognition that they have this asbestos-related condition and they have to decide if they look to their family's financial security."

Ian Babbs, of Asbestos Action Tayside, said it was especially cruel to force victims to make such an important financial decision as their life ebbed away. "The mesothelioma patient has got the problem of facing the fact that he is dying and then has got to make this decision.Usually when the decision has got to be made, he or she is totally involved in their own survival. It's a question of whether they're emotionally ready. The decision should not have to be made."

Pauline McNeill, the committee's Labour convener, stated insurers had haggled with claimants over every last penny and the Bill would help victims and their families when they needed the money the most.

The new legislation was the result of a campaign by trade unions and Des McNulty, the Labour MSP for Clydebank, many of whose constituents were exposed to asbestos in local shipyards and had suffered as a result of the way in which compensation was awarded..

Tommy Gorman, of Clydebank Asbestos Group, said the two-page bill had no frills. "It actually addresses the point it's meant to address. I think people really appreciate that."

There are just under 2000 mesothelioma sufferers in Britain, but numbers are due to peak around 2400 by 2013.

Relatives' payments are typically around £30,000 for a widow, £10,000 for the children or parents of a victim, and £5000 for grandchildren.

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