Friday, November 21, 2008

Asbestos victory safeguards compensation for workers

Thousands of asbestos victims had compensation payments safeguarded today after the High Court ruled against insurance companies trying to dodge out of their liabilities.

The Unite union led a successful defence on behalf of the family of a former steel erector against a legal challenge by insurance companies which could have deprived mesothelioma sufferers and their families of compensation.

The High Court ruled that Employers' Liability insurers remain liable to pay compensation for mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos in the work place if they insured the employer at the time the asbestos exposure occurred.

The decision comes after a nine-week court battle throughout June and July.


Asbestos victory safeguards compensation for workers


Unite joint general secretary, Derek Simpson said: "This is a hugely important victory for the victims of the deadly dust and for their families. Having to suffer or watch your relatives suffer from a slow and painful death is horrific.

“Thousands of men and women across the UK have been negligently exposed to asbestos by their employers but insurers have tried and failed to use legal technicalities to escape their responsibility to pay compensation under the policies they sold to employers."

A number of insurers argued the policies they sold, to insure employers against liability for workers who were injured or suffered illness due to work, were "triggered" by the development of the disease rather than by the exposure to asbestos. 

Often the time lapse between exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma can be 40 years or more.

If the insurance companies' defence had been successful it could have deprived thousands of asbestos victims and their families of their right to compensation.

The successful conclusion to the test case means the family of mesothelioma victim and Unite member Charles Michael O'Farrell will be a step closer to receiving ВЈ152,000 in compensation from his former employer's insurers Excess Insurance Company Limited.

Charles O'Farrell was a retired member of Unite who died in 2003. He was exposed to asbestos while working as a steel erector for Humphreys & Glasgow Limited from 1964 to 1967. The company ceased trading in1986 and is currently in liquidation.

Excess had refused to pay the damages citing the "trigger issue" defence as their reason. If the High Court had found in favour of the insurer the O'Farrell family would not receive any compensation.

His daughter, Maureen Edwards said: "My dad died a painful death from mesothelioma and watching him suffer was agonising for all of us. Excess Insurance poured salt into the wound by forcing us to fight them in court to receive compensation which we had already been awarded but they refused to pay.

"My dad would have been proud today that, with the backing of his union, we have finally achieved justice for him. But he would have been disgusted by the lengths the insurers went to get out of paying.”

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