Landmark UK Supreme Court ruling in asbestos case.

Civil litigation can be a test of stamina for those involved and often raises issues of inequality in terms of resources, strategies and access to justice itself.

This landmark case will have an important impact beyond the claims by families of people who died from asbestos related cancer after exposure to asbestos. Not only will its effects be felt by the insurance industry as many more insurance companies find themselves faced with having to meet claims, but it will also serve as a timely reminder of the pitfalls facing individuals when they are bringing actions in the civil courts. Civil litigation can be a test of stamina for those involved and often raises issues of inequality in terms of resources, strategies and access to justice itself. Asbestos claims are no exception and such claims by families may indeed come to epitomise some of the horrors of civil litigation.

The ruling handed down by the Supreme Court is significant because the court placed insurance liability on the insurer at the time an employee was exposed to asbestos not at the time the symptoms appeared.  The material time for insurance cover by employers will be when the exposure to asbestos dust took place, this will be the 'trigger' and not when the symptoms of mesothelioma emerge which, in some cases, may not be until several decades after the exposure.

The effect of the ruling will bring certainty to such proceedings and means that it will be the insurer at the time the employee was exposed who is liable - not the insurer when the mesothelioma emerges.

Apparently the resistance and need for an appeal to the Supreme Court came from a small group of 'run-off' insurers who were out of step with the majority of insurers. These 'run-off' insurers are insurance companies who are no longer accepting new business.

Not only will the ruling affect present claims by families but it will also affect many of the claims that are yet to be made on behalf of the thousands of employers who develop mesothelioma each year.

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