Scottish Judge Rules Out “Fast Track” for Asbestos Victims

July 9, 2002

Lord Cullen, Scotland’s Lord Justice General, ruled that plaintiff’s in asbestos related cases most continue to bring their actions through regular court proceedings rather than applying the rules of the commercial courts that could greatly accelerate the pace of compensation.

According to a report in The Scotsman, Cullen determined that to allow the claims to be brought in the commercial courts would be “wasteful of resources.” Victims’ lawyers had hoped to use the procedure to determine liability in thousands of pending asbestos cases brought by former workers in Scottish shipyards and related industries who were exposed to the deadly dust over a number of years.

A recent ruling by the Law Lords, the U.K.’s highest judicial body, determined that plaintiffs were not required to establish who their actual employer was when they contracted the asbestos related condition, which, as the diseases caused by it develop over many years, would have been impossible to determine in most cases.

Cullen’s ruling, which applies only to Scotland, means that lawyers for the insurance companies can continue to present what have been dubbed “skeleton defenses,” by asserting that there is insufficient proof that the victim ever worked for the company they represent.

As a number of companies are no longer in business and many records have been lost or destroyed of the years, it’s often a very hard showing to make. There are currently over 500 asbestos related cases pending in the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh. The heavily industrialized region around the Firth of Clyde has the highest percentage of asbestos related deaths in the British Isles, and experts predict that the number of claims won’t peak for another 15 years. Many victims have died before their cases were determined.

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