The Compensation of Asbestos-Related Illnesses in France
Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:45
Location: Hörsaal 5A G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
This paper, based on a study of a French occupational illness scandal, examines disparities in the instigation of legal proceedings. Asbestos, a toxic substance commonly used in French industry in the "Trente Glorieuses" (Thirty Glorious Years; France 1945-75), causes pulmonary illnesses and death by cancer. The toxicity of this product has, however, been known since the beginning of the twentieth century. Following the scandal which erupted in France in the 90s, legal and administrative innovations were implemented in order to compensate employee victims: civil lawsuits are now easier to win, and the government has created a specific compensation fund for victims of asbestos. The latter increases the compensation for victims in comparison to other occupational illnesses, with the aim of limiting the number of lawsuits. Victims thus have the choice between legal and extra-legal compensation mechanisms. Although these mechanisms are in principle open to all victims, our study will nevertheless demonstrate disparities in the victims' choice of mechanism.
Drawing on forty interviews carried out with professional victims of asbestos, we will demonstrate how commitment to the mechanisms depends largely upon the situation of the victims. In particular, we shall highlight two essential factors to explain the victims' choice. Firstly, involvement in collective associations or unions created to assist in the preparation of dossiers is a large influence in the choice of civil lawsuits. Secondly, the employment path of the victim, if it is stable, promotes the causal link to work and the attribution of responsibility to the employer. On the other hand, those with a non-stable employment path (in particular, temporary workers and subcontractors) have more difficulties in identifying their professional activity as being the cause of their condition and are less likely to initiate legal proceedings against their employer.