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Supreme Court upholds insurers' liability to asbestos victims

28 March 2012

Insurers can be liable to compensate for asbestos-related conditions in employees of companies that have gone out of business, the UK Supreme Court confirmed today.

Five judges ruled that employers' liability policies covering conditions "contracted" or "sustained", related to the causation of the disease rather than its subsequent manifestation, and therefore that insurance in force at the time of the employment in which the exposure to asbestos took place, covered claims relating to conditions that did not manifest themselves until many years later.

The Court of Appeal had distinguished between the meaning of "contracted" and "sustained", holding that the latter related to the manifestation of the disease, but the Supreme Court said it was necessary to avoid over-concentration on the meaning of single words or phrases looked at in isolation, and also to look at the protective purpose of the insurance cover, and the terms of the Act making it compulsory.

Lord Mance, delivering the leading judgment, said the policy considerations "justify a conclusion that, for the purposes of the insurances, liability for mesothelioma following upon exposure to asbestos created during an insurance period involves a sufficient 'weak' or 'broad' causal link for the disease to be regarded as 'caused' within the insurance period".

Asbestos expert at Thompsons Solicitors, Laura Blane, said: “This is great news for the rights of asbestos sufferers in Scotland. It is the right decision which will mean that victims and families who have suffered due to asbestos can get justice they deserve."

She added: “The time of insurers trying to avoid their responsibilities really needs to come to an end. Asbestos victims deserve proper compensation and hopefully we’ll get to a stage where that is recognised by all concerned. ”

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