In Sweden, asbestos was partially banned by 1976 followed by a complete ban in 1982. As in many other nations, workers in Sweden were exposed to substantial concentrations of asbestos at work before the bans. Many fell ill after the asbestos exposure and many still do. In Sweden it is very hard to sue for damages compared to the US, given the Swedish legal system. Instead, any compensation for victims with asbestos-related diseases, come from insurance that cover all workers, both active and retired workers.
Asbestos covered by insurance
AFA Insurance is an organisation owned by Sweden’s labour market parties. They insure employees within the private sector, municipalities and county councils. Today more than four million people in Sweden are covered by at least one of their insurances, this includes asbestos covered by insurance.
The insurance plans are based on collective agreements between Sweden’s labour market parties. AFA Insurance provide financial support in the event of incapacity for work due to sickness, work injury, shortage of work, death and parental leave. This then includes employees fallen ill due to asbestos exposure. In addition to their core insurance activities, they manage knowledge and resources, and work to prevent ill-health in the workplace. This type of insurance is one of the most common employee benefits in Sweden.
The typical asbestos insurance compensation for workers with mesothelioma is 3400 SEK per month (425 $US per month), starting from the date when the disease occured.
Insurance for retired workers previously exposed to asbestos
If a worker get an industrial disease after retirement, this insurance can still be valid given special circumstances:
- The event causing disease must have happened after January 31th, 1974
- The industrial disease/damage must have occured before the age 65.
There is an exception to this rule regarding asbestos cancer caused by asbestos exposure:
- For former employees at municipalites, county council or church, there is no age limit to when the asbestos cancer must have occured.
- For former private sector employees, the age limit for when disease must have occured is age 75.
Asbestos lawsuit in Swedish Courts
In the US, asbestos civil litigation cases can grant large awards for the victims, sometimes millions of US dollars. Those kind of cases has no counterpart in the Swedish judicial system.
The following differences are descriptive of this:
- In the US, civil cases take place in front of jury, while in Sweden those cases take place in front of a judge.
- US asbestos attorneys often work according to a “contingency fee contract.” This means that the plaintiff doesn’t have to pay a single penny and the legal counsel only gets paid following a successful settlement, often a substantial amount. Swedish laywers are not allowed to draft individual fee contracts like this.
- Class Action law suits are possible in the US. This is also possible in Sweden since 2003, but has rarely been tried in large scale. Thus, many swedish lawyers are reluctant to attempt this, for many reasons.
- In the US, plaintiff are awarded an amount set by the jury, which can extremely out of proportion given the severity of the industrial disease or injury. There are no limits to what this amount can be. The jury often reward extreme compensation as punitive damages. This is impossible to do in the Swedish judicial system.
- Health insurance systems are very different. As detailed above, a Swede with asbestos-related disease are rewarded compensation through general insurance. US health insurance do not provide this. This explains why US jury members easily identify with plaintiffs, and will award large amounts of compensation. In Sweden, the judge will always rule knowing that the plaintiff is already compensated by general insurance.
Future of Class Action lawsuits in Sweden
How should injured, sick and/or unemployed proceed in Sweden, if the company responsible for industrial disease or injury is a large or multinational company? For example, if the victim wishes to sue ABB and Alfa Laval (large swedish multinational companies), he or she must find a law firm that is willing to take on this cause.
If this happens and he or she turns to a well-known business law firm, the agency will refuse the assignment in nine cases out of ten. Mostly because it is the agency’s policy not to have individuals as clients, only businesses. If the firm nevertheless accepts the assignment, the firm will request a large advance of their fees. The fees is around 3000-4000 SEK (~500 $US) per hour. Not many sick and/or unemployed can afford this.
Having insurance with legal protection can help, but only a short distance down the road. State legal aid is also theoretically possible, but is increasingly difficult to get in Sweden.
In addition, if the plaintiff loses the case, he is liable to pay all costs, including defendant legal fees. Finally, many firms cannot take the case because it actually works for the company in question, so a conflict of interest exists.
Advantages in the US Court System
This is where the American system exhibit advantages for the affected compared to the Swedish. If an American lawyer assesses a likely success in the case, they can proceed with the case at their own expense, without requesting advance from the suffering plaintiff. The US lawyers get their fees only if they win the case, usually 40% of the damages.
Also, the victim do not have to pay any fee if he loses, and the law firm and the defendant party will pay their own expenses.
This allow US victims to proceed with lawsuits, without any financing whatsoever.
In Sweden, bar ethics prevent lawyers from proceeding in the same way. Allthough the future wil show if class action lawsuits will be effectively used against larger or multinational companies in Sweden. This could enable plaintiffs without financial means to proceed with their cause.
“Grupprättegångar i Sverige”
“En bild på era lungor kan vara värd miljoner”
“Asbestos covered by insurance”