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Court Threat to Cancer Victims Compensation

Byline: By Nick Whitten Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), December 7, 2006

Hundreds of dying North East asbestos victims could miss out on compensation, if insurance firms get their way.

A group of insurance companies want to change the way compensation is paid to people who develop the asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma, following exposure to the deadly dust in the workplace.

The insurance firms, which are now in liquidation, want liability to kick in when the disease develops, rather than when the exposure to the asbestos actually took place.

Often the time lapse between exposure to the deadly dust and the development of mesothelioma can be longer than 30 years.

For over 40 years the insurance industry has accepted that the insurer who was on cover at the time the asbestos exposure occurred must pay the claim.

But the Employers' Liability insurers argue that it should be the trigger of the disease that should mark when a mesothelioma claim starts.

If the insurers' argument is successful they will no longer be liable for paying compensation.

And if they are successful it could leave the door open for other insurance firms to avoid paying money to thousands of North East asbestos victims, using the same argument.

Head of national asbestos litigation at Thompsons Solicitors, Ian McFall, said: "This is a very serious threat to mesothelioma victims who are trying to claim compensation.

"If the insurers are successful in their argument many victims will find there is very often no other insurer to turn to.

"This is because, by the time their disease occurs, which is sometimes 30 years or more after they were exposed to asbestos, the employer has ceased trading and no insurance exists.

"The insurers must know this argument will frustrate and delay the process of obtaining compensation for terminally ill claimants.

"It will introduce uncertainty about how historical policies of employment liability insurance should work in practice in these cases."

Mr McFall added: "We will continue to fight to ensure asbestos victims maintain their right to claim full compensation.

"It must be right that they are compensated for the injuries they have suffered merely through carrying out a hard day's work."

Newcastle East and Wallsend Labour MP, Nick Brown, said: "Insurance companies are constantly trying to find ways to get out of being liable for compensation claims for mesothelioma sufferers.

"No employer has the right to inflict this illness on an employee. In my opinion they should cover all the costs of this suffering including pain relieving costs, compensation and legal and medical bills."

Liquidators, Pricewaterhouse Cooper, are representing two of the main insurance companies ( Independent Insurance Company Limited (IICL), the Builders' Accident Insurance Limited (BAI) ( raising the trigger issue.

Dan Schwarzmann, partner for Pricewaterhouse Coopers' business recovery services, said: "This is clearly a very unfortunate issue and one which has arisen due a recent court ruling.

"We are doing everything in our power as scheme administrators to minimise the uncertainty around this issue, and intend to seek directions from the court in order to find a solution as soon as possible."