Nine-week High Court battle begins today to force insurers to pay up

Compensation for families of thousands of workers killed by an asbestos-related cancer depends on the outcome of a case that is heading for the High Court today.

Families of sufferers of mesothelioma who have died from the disease or who develop it in the future could be left without insurance cover if the court agrees with insurance firms’ interpretation of employers’ liability policies.


Mesothelioma, diagnosed in 2000 people a year in the UK, is a condition caused by exposure to asbestos but which can take 40 years to develop.

The dispute, which involves six test cases in what could be a nine-week hearing, is an attempt by insurers to head off an increasing number of claims.

Their argument centres on when an insurance policy is triggered. Until 2006 it was assumed that an employer’s liability related to the date a worker was exposed to asbestos.

In February of that year insurers won an appeal court ruling that said the policy was triggered by the onset of injury or disease. Although the policy in question concerned public liability insurance it prompted insurers to look at the wording of employers’ liability terms and led to the current litigation.

If the insurers win this case it will mean that gaps will appear in companies’ employment liability cover and they may have to pay for mesothelioma claims themselves.

In cases where an insured company has ceased to trade or is insolvent the mesothelioma sufferers and their families may have no financial redress.

The case, known as the Employers’ Liability Policy Trigger Litigation, could take nine weeks to be heard by Mr Justice Burton in the High Court.