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Home > News > Personal Injury News


14 November 2005

Insurance firm in court bid to halt payouts for asbestos victims ( by Paul Jeeves )

A legal challenge in the Court of Appeal begins today which could save the insurance industry £500m on compensation to thousands of workers affected by asbestos.

Norwich Union has mounted the legal case in a bid to halt payments to sufferers of the asbestos-related condition, pleural plaques, in what could prove to be a landmark ruling.

A High Court decision earlier this year left the insurance firm's initial attempt to stop compensation payments defeated. But the challenge in the Court of Appeal, expected to last the week, could overturn that decision, with ramifications for tens of thousands of sufferers.

Thompsons Solicitors, legal specialists in asbestos disease cases, were involved in opposing the original High Court challenge. The legal firm is representing two of the six test cases being used as evidence against Norwich Union's legal challenge.

Judith Gledhill, head of Thompsons' specialist regional asbestos team in Yorkshire, said: "The insurance industry is motivated by its need to protect profits and shareholder interests".

"For over 20 years the courts have accepted pleural plaques together with the increased risk of future disease and related anxiety constitutes an injury and should therefore be compensated".

"The majority of people who develop any type of asbestos-related disease, including pleural plaques, do so because their employers were negligent in failing to protect them from exposure to asbestos. This case is about the right of those people to continue to receive awards of compensation for the injury they have suffered."

Pleural plaques are recognised as a sign of damage to the lining of the lung caused by a history of exposure to asbestos, which itself carries an increased risk of malignant disease such as the deadly cancer mesothelioma.

According to insurance industry estimates, asbestos-related claims are expected to cost UK insurers up to £10bn during the next 40 years, with pleural plaques, but this was reduced by approximately 50 per cent by the High Court ruling earlier this year. Thompsons Solicitors are contesting the reduction in the level of compensation.

Norwich Union spokesman David Ross said: "What we are seeking is clarification from the courts for compensators paying money out to people with pleural plaques."

"In the vast majority of cases, people's lives are not affected by pleural plaques but they are awarded compensation because of the anxiety which the condition brings."

"The question is should compensation be paid to the worried well. In our view, compensation should be paid to those who are suffering from more serious conditions associated with exposure to asbestos."

With an estimated 14,000 pleural plaques claims each year, these cases account for about 75 per cent of all asbestos claims, with approximately £25m in compensation being paid out by insurers.

Paul Cooper has recently been awarded a Pride of York award in recognition of his work with asbestos victims from the carriage works in the city.

He said: "Pleural plaques is a condition which affects many people in York, and thousands of people throughout England."

"It is an extremely worrying condition, and sufferers have to live with the knowledge that they have been exposed to the killer dust through no fault of their own, and are at increased risk of developing the terminal asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma."

"It would be a great wrong if these sufferers were denied the legal redress they deserve from their employer's insurers."

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