Families of workers who died from asbestos-related cancers win landmark fight for compensation

 

Families of thousands of workers who have died or suffer from asbestos-related cancers finally won their landmark fight for compensation at the Supreme Court today.

Judges ruled that insurance liability was “triggered” when employees were exposed to asbestos dust - and not later, when symptoms of mesothelioma emerged.

Lawyers said that the ruling by the UK’s highest court would mean employers’ insurers must now pay huge compensation bills for policies dating from the late 1940s to late 1990s – which had been put on hold waiting for today’s ruling.

Families started a legal fight for compensation more than five years ago and lawyers say the Supreme Court ruling could affect thousands of claims.

Relatives won the first round of their battle 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 in some cases liability was triggered when symptoms developed - sometimes decades after exposure.

Lawyers said the appeal court ruling had left victims' families facing “confusion and uncertainty”.

A panel of five Supreme Court justices heard argument about a group of lead cases at a hearing in London in December and delivered judgment today.

It ruled that the disease could be said to have been “sustained” by an employee in the period when it was caused or initiated, even though it only developed or manifested itself later.

Lord Clarke said: “The negligent exposure of an employee to asbestos during the policy (insurance) period has a sufficient causal link with subsequently arising mesothelioma to trigger the insurer's obligation.”

The UK’s biggest union, Unite, welcomed today's “landmark” ruling, which it said will affect “many of the 2,500 people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year”.

It said it had appealed to the Supreme Court after insurance companies had been partly successful in the earlier appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Unite's challenge was on behalf of the family of Charles O'Farrell, a retired member who died of mesothelioma in 2003.

Commenting on the Supreme Court's decision, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This is a landmark ruling which will affect thousands of victims of asbestos.

”It is a disgrace that insurance companies went to such lengths to shirk their responsibilities. For callous insurers this means the responsibility holiday is over.”

Helen Ashton, the solicitor represening the lead claimant in the case, Ruth Durham, who had continued the legal battle in memory of her father Leslie Screach, said the ruling provided “clarity, consistency and comfort for mesothelioma victims and their families”.

Ms Ashton, of law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “As well as the people currently directly affected by asbestos related disease, this judgment means that the thousands of people who are yet to be given the devastating news that they have the deadly illness will at least know that their families can get access to justice and receive the financial security they need.

”But the sad fact is that many victims of mesothelioma who have been awaiting the outcome of this appeal may not have lived long enough to know if their families will now receive the compensation they deserve.“

She commented: ”The ruling will also have important wider implications for people suffering from all workplace illnesses.

“This will impact on anyone suffering illnesses or injuries at work that can take a long time to develop.”

 The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said the judgment provided ”clarity and certainty“.

”The ABI and our members are committed to paying compensation as quickly as possible to people with mesothelioma who have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace,“ said Nick Starling, the ABI's director of general insurance and health.

”We have always opposed the attempt to change the basis on which mesothelioma claims should be paid, as argued by those who brought this litigation.

“Today's ruling by the Supreme Court has confirmed what most in the industry have always understood - that the insurer on cover when the claimant was exposed to asbestos should pay the claim, rather than the insurer on cover when the mesothelioma develops.”

Municipal Mutual Insurance (MMI), one of four insurance firms which featured in the litigation, said it had ”sought resolution“ of the issue in order to provide ”greater certainty“.

”Whilst the ruling does not reflect MMI's favoured outcome, we welcome the clarity this judgment brings as it enables MMI to determine the extent of its liabilities and the available options for the future of MMI and its business,“ said a spokeswoman.

But Susan Brown, Director at law firm Prolegal warned that many asbestos victims would still go uncompensated.

“It is important to remember that there are still many victims left uncompensated, either because they cannot identify when or where they were exposed to asbestos, or because their former employers are no longer trading and the insurers cannot be identified.  There remains a pressing need for provision, in the form of an EL (employers liability) “fund of last resort” to be put in place to compensate these victims and their families.  The government have suggested that legislation on this would follow the conclusion of the “trigger” litigation, and it is to be hoped that they will now move quickly on this.”

Case study: 'I miss Dad every day. Money won't bring him back'

Leslie Screach died in 2003 after being exposed to asbestos fibres between 1963 and 1968 while working as a paint sprayer in west London. His daughter Ruth Durham continued the legal battle in memory of her father. She said:

"I am delighted to hear of the court's decision, which will now see justice done for my father and the other mesothelioma sufferers. I was determined to see this through with a positive outcome for all those who, like my dad, suffered so terribly because of someone else's negligence. I miss him every day and no sum of money will ever bring him back or make up for what he went through. We had been very close, and really were good friends."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Part Time

£10500 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Part Time Accounts Assistant ...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company supply, install an...

Tradewind Recruitment: Reception Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: An excellent three form entry scho...

The Green Recruitment Company: Commercial Construction Manager

£65000 Per Annum bonus & benefits package: The Green Recruitment Company: The ...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'