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Victory in Trigger case paves way for mesothelioma victim compensation claims
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the so-called “Trigger issue” insurance case will now pave the way for thousands of mesothelioma sufferers and their families to claim compensation.
Today’s ruling in favour of the claimants not only marks an end to a six-year legal battle for the families concerned, but also means that other victims and families can push ahead with their own claims for the damages they deserve.
Karl Tonks, head of Employers’ Liability department at Fentons Solicitors LLP and vice president of APIL (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers), welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. “This is a fantastic result that ensures thousands of mesothelioma victims can still claim the compensation to which they are entitled,” said Karl. “Not only have the families involved in the claim been vindicated, but the ruling has ensured that many thousands more sufferers across the country are now able to continue their pursuit of justice.”
Karl explained that the ruling made by the panel of judges on Wednesday 29 March means that insurers who covered an employer at the time victims were exposed to the deadly asbestos fibres will have to pay compensation.
“This lengthy legal battle became known as the ‘Trigger issue’ case because the central argument was whether an insurer’s liability is triggered at the time of the exposure to asbestos, or at the time the insured worker develops their illness,” said Karl. “Since we first learned that exposure to asbestos dust causes fatal lung cancers, employees have been able to hold their employer liable if they develop an illness as a result of their work. But because any asbestos-related disease can take years or decades to manifest, many of the firms that employed people to work with asbestos in the 1960s and 1970s no longer exist by the time a victim becomes seriously ill. In these cases, the insurer is responsible for paying any compensation to the victim or their family.”
Karl explained that four insurance companies at the centre of the landmark case had been fighting to minimise payouts to 6,000 families who had a member who had died or was suffering from mesothelioma. “They had argued that an employer's liability was restricted to when the cancer began to develop, as opposed to when the victims were first exposed to asbestos dust,” he said. “A ruling in the insurance companies’ favour would have meant that the victims and their families might have ended up unable to hold anybody to account, despite the fact that their employers had paid premiums to these same insurers.
"Furthermore, not only would the families involved have been unable to claim compensation, but it would have had a devastating impact on the thousands of mesothelioma sufferers who have yet to complete their own claim – not to mention many thousands more who have yet to even develop the disease,” said Karl.
The test case, which has gone to the High Court and the Court of Appeal before today’s Supreme Court hearing, has been running since 2006 and is one of the most protracted in legal history.
“This is a fantastic result for asbestos claimants and mesothelioma victims across the country,” said Karl. “I am delighted that the Supreme Court has seen fit to rule in favour of the claimants.”
Karl said he hoped the ruling would now be quickly followed by the introduction of a ‘fund of last resort’ to pay compensation to those victims unable to trace their own employer’s insurer.
“The Trigger case was just one obstacle preventing mesothelioma victims receiving the compensation they deserved,” said Karl. “Now that the Court has told the insurance companies they cannot change the rules in mesothelioma cases, we are urging the government to help those who are currently unable to trace their insurer by creating an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau,” he said.
“Many insurance policy records have been lost or destroyed by insurers over the years, but the insurance companies still had the premiums that had been paid,” said Karl. “The ELIB would enable workers who are unable to trace an insurer to obtain compensation from a scheme funded by essentially those same insurers.
“The Motor Insurer’s Bureaus scheme - which already exists to assist motorists who have been injured by uninsured drivers - is funded by insurers,” said Karl. “Asking insurance companies to step up and foot the bill for a similar fund of last resort is the right and proper way to ensure workers who have become desperately ill through no fault of their own are suitably compensated,” he said.
“This is a fantastic result for asbestos claimants and mesothelioma victims across the country,” said Karl. “I am delighted that the Supreme Court has seen fit to rule in favour of the claimants, and effectively level the playing field once more.”
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