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Victory for asbestos victims in battle against insurers

The Supreme Court has ruled that insurers are liable for industrial diseases even if they only manifest themselves after the victim has changed jobs or retired.


Insurance companies had argued that they were only liable for workplace injuries and not for industrial diseases that take time to appear.

The Unite union called today's verdict a landmark ruling that will affect many of the 2,500 people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.

The Supreme Court upheld the appeal lodged by the union on behalf of the family of a deceased member. Unite appealed after insurance companies were partly successful in an earlier appeal to the Court of Appeal. The companies 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 always decades later when there is no insurance in place to respond to the claim.

In his judgment Lord Clarke concluded that: "The whole purpose of these policies was to insure employers against liability to their employees. That purpose would be frustrated if the insurers' submissions on this point were accepted."

Lord Phillips added that diseases are contracted when the process that leads to them is initiated as a result of wrongful exposure to the noxious substance that causes the disease.

The judgment went on to emphasise that these principles apply not only to mesothelioma but also to other industrial diseases.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey responded: "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 fought this case to the highest court to get justice for Charles, his family and all victims of asbestos. Justice for ordinary people and the ability of trade unions to bring these cases won't be possible if the government succeeds in slamming the door to justice with their legal aid bill."

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