U.K. High Court Decision Opens Door to Asbestos Claims

May 17, 2002

A unanimous decision by Britain’s Law Lords, the U.K.’s highest court, will permit sufferers from asbestos related diseases to file claims, even though they cannot prove with certainty, where they may have been exposed.

Under a Court of Appeal decision a claimant had to be able to show by whom he was employed when he contracted the condition. This requirement limited the possibility of filing claims, as the majority of the workers affected had usually worked for a number of different employers over the years when they were being exposed to asbestos dust.

The conditions, primarily lung cancer and mesothelioma, can take as long as 30 years to develop, and the Appeal Court ruling had made it virally impossible, except in the rare cases where only one employer was involved, for victims to file claims.

The Lords decision will allow victims to file claims naming more than one employer. There are already a number of persons who have been awaiting the decision in the hopes of being able to pursue legal remedies . Current estimates put the number of new mesothelioma cases at around 1500 a year, but that is expected to increase, perhaps even to double over, the next 10 to 20 years.

Analysts put the potential overall cost to the insurance industry at between £6 billion ($8.76 billion) and £8 billion (11.7 billion) spread over the next 20 years. The average recovery in such cases has been around £100,000 ($146,000 ).

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