Unions applaud landmark £5 billion mesothelioma verdict
The Supreme Court of Great Britain has ruled that insurance companies must pay as much as £5 billion ($7.97 billion) to families whose relatives died of mesothelioma or other diseases caused by asbestos exposure. The Court’s 4-1 ruling brought an end to a five year legal battle in which insurance companies sought to avoid payment of some claims involving asbestos-related diseases.
Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union, Unite, challenged attempts by the insurance companies to avoid paying claims that date back to as early as the 1940s. Insurers argued that they should only be forced to pay claims for policies that were in effect when symptoms of mesothelioma or another asbestos disease first appeared, rather than policies that were active when the individual was exposed to asbestos.
The Supreme Court rejected the insurers arguments, stating that they were still liable for illnesses resulting from asbestos exposure even if symptoms began to appear only decades later. The ruling will allow thousands of British families to file claims on behalf of loved ones who died as a result of asbestos exposure.
Kevin Rowan, the regional secretary of the Northern UTC trade union, praised the Court’s ruling as a victory for British citizens who have been exposed to asbestos:
This is the best possible outcome for the thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases every year—and their families who have to endure the pain and suffering with them. It was nonsense that this even had to be taken to the Supreme Court in the first place, and we are delighted that common sense and decency has prevailed.
Unite’s challenge to the insurance companies’ position was filed on behalf of Charles O’Farrell, a union member who died in 2003. O’Farrell’s daughter, Maureen Edwards, praised the Court’s ruling and criticized the insurance industries reticence to pay asbestos claims such as her father's:
There was never any question about who was to blame—all this long battle was about the insurers wanting to get out of paying. It is very difficult for us to understand the insurance industry’s attitude to dying people....