The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians has welcomed the verdict delivered in the High Court today which rejected an attempt by the insurance industry to deny compensation to victims of mesothelioma.
In June this year the insurance industry launched a legal challenge in the High Court, where they argued that insurers should no longer be liable to pay compensation to asbestos victims at the time they were exposed.
Instead, it argued that the “trigger” and liability should occur when the disease develops.
In the majority of cases mesothelioma and other conditions relating to exposure to asbestos take over 30 years to develop. By this time many workers will have retired and will no longer be insured. If the insurance industry had been successful they would have saved billions in compensation payments. Asbestos victims and their families would have been left destitute.
Alan Ritchie, General Secretary of UCATT, said: “I am delighted with today’s High Court judgement, it is a victory for common sense, I hope that the insurance industry will now withdraw gracefully and not pursue this case any further. Already a number of very sick people have had their compensation delayed by these proceedings. Some have sadly died.”
UCATT and other asbestos campaigners are concerned that the insurance industry will not accept the decision and will attempt to take their case to the Court of Appeal and possibly to the House of Lords, prolonging the misery of those caught up in the case.
Mr Ritchie added: “For years the insurance industry has sought to increase their profits by chipping away at compensation to worker’s who suffer industrial illnesses and injuries. The insurance industry was happy to receive the premiums but never seemed to accept the need to pay compensation. This decision must be a line in the sand. The erosion of worker’s right to compensation will not be tolerated.”
UCATT are campaigning for the Government to overturn the decision by the Law Lords last year no longer to pay compensation to pleural plaques sufferers. The Government have held an extensive consultation on the issue and a decision is expected in the near future.
Pleural plaques are scarring of the lung caused by heavy and prolonged exposure to asbestos. The scars become visible on x-rays following calcification. Pleural plaques can cause physical symptoms, with victims also suffering from severe mental distress. Pleural plaques sufferers have a greatly increased chance of contracting the incurable lung disease mesothelioma.
Compensation for pleural plaques is a relatively low financial amount. However if a pleural plaque victim then develops the fatal lung cancer mesothelioma, the relevant insurers will have already been identified, meaning that compensation will be paid in a victim’s lifetime. If the insurers have not already been identified this is unlikely to occur.
Following the High Court decision UCATT is stepping up its campaign for the introduction of an Employers Liability Insurance Bureau. Such a scheme would mean that victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses could still receive compensation even if they had not been insured or the insurer had ceased trading. All insurers would pay money into the scheme and this would then be used to pay compensation, to those whose insurers cannot be traced.
The scheme would be very similar to the existing Motor Insurance Bureau, which pays compensation to those involved in traffic accidents where a driver is not insured.