1. ITV Report

Asbestos relatives win right to compensation

Thousands of relatives of industrial workers will get compensation for asbestos related deaths in the workplace. Photo: ITN

Relatives of workers who died from asbestos-related cancer have won their fight for compensation.

Today was the end of a five year battle which went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Court ruled that insurance liability was "triggered" at the time mesothelioma victims were exposed to dust, and not, as insurance companies had argued, when the symptoms appeared.

Ruling Judge Lord Clarke said today:

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.

– Lord Clarke, The Supreme Court

The ruling means that employer's insurers will have to pay compensation claims on policies from the 1940s to the late 1990s.

Unite welcomed the "landmark" ruling.

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.

– Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary

The families welcomed the decision, but criticised the insurance companies, and the Government.

Maureen Edwards lost her father Charles O'Farrell in 2003 to mesothelioma.

This is the right decision. I am delighted for all those families who have been awaiting this result. My dad worked all his life and was hoping to enjoy retirement before mesothelioma took him away. There was never any question about who was to blame, all this long battle was about was insurers wanting to get out of paying.

– Maureen Edwards, relative

She talked about the "horrendous death" her father had to endure, and said that no amount of money could compensate for losing him in such a painful way.

Other victims said they had "mixed emotions".

Ruth Durham lost her father Leslie Screach in 2003. He was exposed to asbestos fibres between 1963 and 1968 whilst working as a paint sprayer in west London.

His family started a legal fight for compensation more than five years ago and won the first round of their battle in 2008, when the high court said his firm's insurers were liable.

This was overturned two years later at the Court of Appeal as it said in some cases liability was only triggered when symptoms developed.

The Supreme Court today supported the original ruling, stating that liability was triggered by exposure to the carcinogenic material.

Asbestos fibres Credit: Reuters

Victims lawyer Carol Ann Hepworth said she hoped the relevant insurers would now meet their claims quickly. Her firm represents hundreds of victims' families, and estimated that some payouts could top £100,000.

Municipal Mutual Insurance (MMI) is one of four insurance firms featured in the legal battle. They welcomed the ruling.

"Whilst the ruling does not reflect MMI's favoured outcome, we welcome the clarity this judgment brings as it enables MMI to determine the extent of its liabilities and the available options for the future of MMI and its business,"

– Municipal Mutual Insurance spokesperson

The Association of British Insurers (ABI)) welcomed the ruling and said they want to see compensation paid to victims "as quickly as possible".

They hit out at the insurance firms involved in the case saying:

We have always opposed the attempt to change the basis on which mesothelioma claims should be paid, as argued by those who brought this litigation. This case has been pursued by a small group of 'run-off' insurers acting independently and at odds with the views of the majority of the UK insurance industry.

We are pleased that the Supreme Court has overruled the Court of Appeal's judgment on this point as it ensures that claimants should get the compensation they reasonably expect.

– Nick Starling, ABI's director of general insurance and health