Construction firms have been warned to examine the smallprint in their insurance documents after a landmark asbestos judgment in the High Court.

Mr Justice Burton this week ruled that victims of the deadly cancer mesothelioma would be able to claim compensation from the insurers who were covering their employers at the time they were exposed to asbestos. This could be up to 50 years before the symptoms surfaced.

The insurers had argued that later policies – the ones that were valid when tumours developed or symptoms became apparent – should cover the claims. This would have left hundreds of present and future victims, who were unable to do this, without compensation.

This judgment is likely to face appeal, but is good news for sufferers, their families and employers, who would have had to pay claims of £125,000-175,000 from their own funds.

Ucatt described the decision as a “victory for common sense”.

Peter Taylor, a partner in Lovells’ insurance and reinsurance business, warned firms to examine insurance policies to see exactly what is covered.

He said: “Firms should look at the things that happen to their workers and ask how does my policy describe these things.”