Asbestos: court ruling opens way for insurance claims
The UK Supreme Court has made a ruling which could allow thousands of insurance claims by families of people who died after exposure to asbestos.
The court said insurance liability was “triggered” when an employee was exposed to asbestos fibres – not when symptoms first appeared.
It was asked to rule on the issue after judges in lower courts failed to agree.
Relatives of workers who died of the cancer mesothelioma want to make claims on policies dating from the 1940s.
They had a success in 2008, when the High Court said firms’ insurers at the time workers inhaled fibres were liable.
But two years later the Court of Appeal said that in some cases liability was triggered when symptoms developed, and sometimes decades after exposure.
Lawyers said the appeal court ruling had left victims’ families facing “confusion and uncertainty”.
The new ruling by a panel of five Supreme Court justices states that the disease can be said to have been “sustained” by an employee in the period when it was caused or initiated.
One of the judges, Lord Clarke, said: “The negligent exposure of an employee to asbestos during the [insurance] policy period has a sufficient causal link with subsequently arising mesothelioma to trigger the insurer’s obligation.”