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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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Public sector employers not liable for asbestos claims, rules Supreme Court

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Public sector employers no longer risk having to shell out hundreds of thousands of pounds for asbestos-related claims after the Supreme Court finally settled a long-running dispute between insurers over liability.

The ruling in the landmark case centred on the question of who was responsible for paying compensation for claims relating to invariably fatal asbestos-induced cancer or mesothelioma – the insurer that was in place when the victim was exposed to the material or the one when the disease first manifested itself, which could be 30 years or more later.
 
Yesterday, however, the Supreme Court upheld the original first instance ruling by a four to one majority, which indicated that liability lay with the insurer at the time of the asbestos exposure.
 
If the judgement had gone the other way, employers could have found themselves having to deal with the financial burden of such claims as the wording of their current insurer’s policy would not necessarily have meant that they were covered.
 
Peter Bennett, who leads the occupational disease team at law firm, Dolmans, said that the ruling was, therefore, “very important” on a number of levels.
 
Firstly, it had clarified a complex situation and meant that there was no longer room for dispute between insurers.
 
Secondly, even if a former employer had gone out of business, victims could now obtain compensation from the relevant insurance company provided that it could be identified, was still operational and had sufficient funds to meet the claim.
 
“This case will be welcomed by public sector employers such as local authorities as they will no longer have to face the financial burden of claims, which are usually in the region of £200,000 each,” Bennett said. “With the current austerity measures, these unforecast claims hit the public purse hard.”
 
This fact was particularly pertinent as mesothelioma was still being contracted, while claims were still on the rise and had yet to reach a peak.
 
“We are also seeing an increase in claims not only from exposure to where asbestos originated, but through its use in ‘end use trades’ such as carpenters and plumbers as well,” Bennett said.
Author Profile Picture
Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett
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