Issue date
30 Mar 2012

A Supreme Court ruling which this week found against insurance companies that had been seeking to deny compensation to the victims of asbestos cancers has been welcomed by unions. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, commenting on the 'trigger case' decision, said: 'We are pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld the basic principle that liability arises at the time when exposure occurs. Any other decision would have been perverse. It is a disgrace that a small number of insurance companies should seek to deny thousands of people who have developed a fatal disease from negligent exposure to asbestos the compensation that they deserve.' He warned, however, that 'there are still many people with the disease who are unable to get compensation because their insurer cannot be traced. We urge the ministers to set up immediately an Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau along the lines proposed in a government consultation carried out two years ago.' Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, commented: '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 was party to the appeal to the Supreme Court after insurance companies were partly successful when they took the case to the Court of Appeal. The insurers argued that in some cases the employers' liability insurance is 'triggered' not by the exposure to asbestos but by the development of the disease, which is can be decades later when there may be no insurance in place. The new ruling by a panel of five Supreme Court justices establishes that the disease can be said to have been 'sustained' by an employee in the period when it was caused or initiated. One of the judges, Lord Clarke, said: 'The negligent exposure of an employee to asbestos during the [insurance] policy period has a sufficient causal link with subsequently arising mesothelioma to trigger the insurer's obligation.' He added 'it would be remarkable if the insurers were not liable under the policies. The whole purpose of the policies was to insure the employers against their liability to the workers.'

TUC news release. Unite news release. BBC News Online.