Asbestos Trigger Date
04 April 2012
Claims for compensation arising out of an individual’s exposure to asbestos in the workplace have gained a substantial victory from the Supreme Court of Justice this week.
A number of legal cases that were originally made in 2006 have finally been heard at the highest level in England and Wales. The cases are known as the ‘Trigger Litigation’ cases because they all relate to a technical legal issue that asks ‘what date should be taken as the ‘trigger’ date for the Defendant’s insurance company to be identified as being the relevant insurance company to indemnify against the claim?’
Claims for asbestos related illnesses are brought against the companies who negligently exposed their employees to asbestos; however they are paid for out of the company’s indemnity insurance. This enables claims to be brought against companies that have long since gone out of business because it is their insurance company that pay the compensation. At the moment, we as Solicitors carry out research to locate the relevant insurance company that was on cover at the time that the victim was exposed to asbestos whilst employed by the negligent Defendant. However this was the very issue that the insurance companies argued over in the ‘Trigger Litigation’ claims.
Whilst this may not appear to be an important issue, in reality it is crucial because different insurance companies may be liable for paying out compensation depending upon what the ‘trigger date’ is. The Courts were asked to consider 2 options:-
- Is the ‘trigger date’ when the asbestos fibres were inhaled?
- Is the ‘trigger date’ when the victim’s symptoms arise?
If the Supreme Court ruled that scenario 2 applied, the Defendant company may have ceased trading in 1998 for example but an individual doesn’t develop symptoms until 2012, in which case the Defendant company won’t have taken any insurance out in 2012 because it wasn’t trading, leaving the innocent victim without any legal remedy. Thousands of victims would be unable to claim compensation for an illness that was caused by their employer’s negligent exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos related illnesses all share a similar characteristic-they lie dormant for many years after inhalation of the asbestos fibres before any symptoms start to show. In light of this, most people who were exposed to asbestos will not be aware that it has caused any damage until long after their exposure. A further complicating factor is that the asbestos fibres affect people differently. Some people who inhale asbestos fibres may never develop any noticeable symptoms. Others may go on to develop a type of cancer called mesothelioma, which is almost certainly caused by asbestos and is sadly terminal. On average it is 40 years (and sometimes longer) before a person experiences symptoms of mesothelioma.
The Defendant’s insurance companies persevered with the litigation and it is understandable why. If the Supreme Court had favoured scenario 2, the insurance trade would have saved millions of pounds.
The Supreme Court favoured scenario 1 and the result is therefore a great outcome for victims of asbestos related illnesses and their families. Sadly, deaths from asbestos related illnesses are the biggest workplace fatalities with statistics at around 4,000 deaths a year. Whilst the law cannot prevent these deaths from occurring, it can be used to help compensate the victims of asbestos and the families of those victims.
Poole Alcock LLP are a local firm of solicitors with a dedicated team specialising in asbestos related claims for compensation and have succeeded in recovering compensation for many victims and their families. If asbestos has affected you or a member of your family, please do not hesitate to visit our website www.poolealcock.co.uk or contact us on 01270 502 880 and we will gladly assist.