Landmark ruling on asbestos payouts

RELATIVES whose loved-ones died of asbestos-related disease could be in line for compensation after a court ruling.

Residents in Hartlepool and east Durham may receive payments after the Supreme Court sided with relatives of workers yesterday.

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.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said the ruling is a “welcome and positive development” but says it is a moral outrage that families have been denied the compensation in the past.

He said families in Hartlepool are still missing out due to the fact some insurers cannot be traced and believes more urgency is required on the Government’s part.

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 yesterday.

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 the “landmark” ruling, which it said will affect “many of the 2,500 people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year”.

Mr Wright told the Hartlepool Mail: “I am pleased that the courts have confirmed the legal principle that blame arises when exposure to asbestos occurs.

“It is a moral outrage that some insurance companies have systematically tried to deny compensation to thousands of people - many in Hartlepool and the North East - who have suffered from a painful and fatal disease from exposure to asbestos while at work.

“However, the positive news must be tempered by the fact that some insurers cannot be traced, which means families in Hartlepool are missing out and suffering.

“The Government pledged to deal with this by setting up an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau but – over two years after the consultation ended – the Government is dragging its heels and not acting with the sense of urgency that the families deserve.”