Supreme Court ruling hits asbestos insurers hard

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that insurers who offered cover for negligent employers at the time when victims inhaled deadly asbestos fibres will have to pay compensation.

Four insurers in particular were trying to find a loophole to avoid payment, and had been fighting this case for the last 6 years.

It’s estimated that the compensation bill could now be over £600m. And mesothelioma deaths in the UK are not expected to peak until 2016. Including future claims that will be brought, up to 25,000 families could be affected by the ruling. Pushing the potential bill to £5bn.

Victims negligently exposed to asbestos at work have developed an asbestos-related cancer called mesothelioma. But half a century can pass before the asbestos fibres in a person’s lungs actually cause the cancer. The insurers had argued that an employer’s liability is restricted to when the cancerous tumours started to develop, instead of when victims were exposed to the dust in the first place.

As a consequence of this protracted legal battle, most of the cancer patients affected by yesterday’s ruling have now died. It is their relatives who had been awaiting the result. And – with the claimants winning by a majority of 4-1 – they’ll see justice done.

Marcus Weatherby, a partner in solicitors Pattinson and Brewer who has a particular interest in industrial disease claims, said:

“I believe that the insurers who took the premiums at the time when the asbestos exposure occurred should always have paid out. The insurance business is all about assessing risk, and companies have a professional duty to vet these risks properly before they underwrite. When their decision came back to bite them they chose to try and avoid payments on the basis of a mealy-mouthed small print argument after they’d collected premiums for many years.

It’s a disgrace that they ran this argument at all.”

Read Marcus Weatherby’s hard-hitting view in our blog:

Pattinson & Brewer is a leading claimant personal injury and employment law firm – founded in 1890 – with offices in London, Bristol and York. They have a strong reputation as one of the leading UK law firms in acting on behalf of members of the public and union members in accident and industrial disease claims, employment disputes and medical accidents.


Pattinson & Brewer media relations:    Denise Kitchener

(W): 020 7400 5135

(M): 07901050902

(F): 020 7400 5101


If Denise is unavailable:                             Chris Theobald

(W): 0115 9140331

(M): 07977586608


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