Asbestos victims to get £8bn after court victory

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The Independent Online

Thousands of workers suffering asbestos-related diseases are expected to receive a total of £8bn in compensation after the House of Lords upheld three claims against the insurance industry yesterday.

The ruling paves the way for 500 pending cases as well as thousands of other claims from workers who are dying from mesothelioma, a lung disease linked to asbestos, but cannot prove where they contracted the condition.

The compensation, expected to be the largest payout for industrial disease, will also benefit families of workers who have died from the cancer.

Yesterday, the law lords upheld appeals by the widows Doreen Fox and Judith Fairchild, whose husbands both died of mesothelioma, and Edwin Matthews, 54, who could die of the disease within weeks. Lawyers for the three had challenged High Court and Court of Appeal rulings that compensation could not be paid where a worker was exposed to the dust by more than one employer.

After the judgment, Mrs Fairchild, widow of Arthur, said: "We got the right result, not only for myself but the thousands affected by this terrible disease. My husband deserved to win."

The construction workers' union Ucatt said the ruling would teach the insurance industry "a lesson it will never forget". George Brumwell, Ucatt's general secretary, said: "The insurance companies have been shamed by this decision. The ruling is a landmark judgment and will change the lives of hundreds who are suffering and the thousands who will follow them."

Last month the Association of British Insurers offered to settle the three cases, and proposed an insurance industry scheme to compensate other mesothelioma sufferers. But the victims insisted that their claims should go before the House of Lords, and they rejected the offers of up to £150,000 each.

Instead Mrs Fairchild will now receive compensation of about £191,000, while an estimated 500 people will have cases that were waiting for yesterday's ruling settled.

Arthur Fairchild died from mesothelioma in 1996, aged 60. He was exposed to substantial quantities of asbestos when he worked for Leeds City Council in the early 1960s and again six years later when he took up a job with a company at another building in the city.

After the judgment John Parker, the head of general insurance at the Association of British Insurers, said: "Insurers will welcome the clarity provided by the ruling. Insurers need to be able to price risks and make reserves."

Ian McFall, the head of the national asbestos team at Thompsons solicitors, said the ruling "restores some sense of justice to the victims of the asbestos industry but it is a tragedy that hundreds of men have died not knowing if their families would receive a penny."

Adrian Budgen, a partner in law firm Irwin Mitchell, which handles many asbestos-related cases, described the ruling as compassionate. He said: "In the coming years there will be thousands of people in the UK who will develop asbestos-related illnesses and lose loved ones due to past exposure to asbestos. At least they will now have the comfort of knowing that the British justice system is on their side."