Supreme Court says insurers responsible for asbestos cases

Personal injury compensation cases concerning asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma are the responsibility of the insurer at the initial time of asbestos exposure regardless of the vagaries of an insurance policy’s wording, the Supreme Court recently said, removing years of doubt and uncertainty concerning the issue.

A four-to-one decision saw Supreme Court judges deciding that the practice of triggering employers’ liability personal injury claims at the time of exposure to the deadly fibres just four years after the High Court heard the decidedly complex issue.  The practice had been challenged by a small group of insurance providers in provisional liquidation or run-off based on the assumption that specific wording in their employers’ liability contracts calls for a response only at the presentation of symptoms – even though the majority of asbestos-related ailments can sometimes take decades to manifest.

However, such a decision would have left employer policyholders and victims facing gaping holes in their employers’ liability cover, the Supreme Court decided, with judges making a mesothelioma compensation ruling that has already bee referred to as the most influential decision for asbestos liability in the UK of all time.  Industry experts said that an estimated hundreds of millions could teeter on the outcome of the case in regards to insurance and reinsurance liability.

The general insurance and health director for the Association of British Insurers, Nick Starling, welcomed the ruling, stating that the ABI had always been in opposition in changing the way mesothelioma-related claims should be paid, agreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision.  Insurers could now place systems in place to speed up claims, the ABI also said, with Mr Starling suggesting the introduction of pre-action protocols in order to hold insurers and claimant solicitors to strict timelines.

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