Asbestos claim families win supreme court competion victory
Ruling could lead to thousands of insurance claims by families of people who died after asbestos exposure.
Len McCluskey, general secrretary of the Unite union, said: 'For callous insurers this means the responsibility holiday is over.’Relatives of workers who died of an asbestos-related cancer have won a compensation fight at the supreme court.
Judges ruled that insurance liability was "triggered" when employees were exposed to asbestos dust – not when symptoms of mesothelioma emerged.
Legal experts say the ruling by the UK's highest court means that employers' insurers will have to pay compensation claims.
Relatives of victims want to make claims on policies from the late 1940s to the late 1990s.
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 had heard argument about a group of lead cases at a hearing in London in December and delivered judgment on Tuesday.
The supreme court 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."
Britain and Ireland's largest trade union, Unite, welcomed Wednesday'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 were 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, the 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.
"Unite fought this case to the highest court to get justice for Charles, his family and all victims of asbestos.
"Justice for ordinary people and the ability of trade unions to bring these cases won't be possible if the government succeeds in slamming the door to justice with their legal aid bill."
O'Farrell's daughter, Maureen Edwards, said: "All I ever prayed for was the right decision. This is the right decision. I am delighted for all those families who have been awaiting this result.
"My dad worked all his life and was hoping to enjoy retirement before mesothelioma took him away.
"There was never any question about who was to blame - all this long battle was about was insurers wanting to get out of paying.
"It is very difficult for us to understand the insurance industry's attitude to dying people, an attitude that the gvernment is going to make worse."