Families of mesothelioma victims celebrated today following a landmark Supreme Court ruling which could force insurers to compensate thousands of sufferers.
In a case brought by a number of victims' relatives, the court ruled that insurance liability was "triggered" when employees were exposed to asbestos dust not when symptoms emerged - as insurers had claimed.
The ruling marks the culmination of a five-year battle for justice by families of victims, resisted every step of the way by grasping insurance firms attempting to avoid liability.
Relatives won the first round of their battle in 2008, when the High Court said firms' insurers at the time workers inhaled fibres were liable.
But two years later the Court of Appeal said in some cases liability was triggered when symptoms developed - sometimes decades after exposure.
Legal experts said the appeal court ruling had left victims' families facing "confusion and uncertainty."
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in December in London and gave its verdict today.
The court ruled: "The negligent exposure of an employee to asbestos during the policy (insurance) period has a sufficient causal link with subsequently arising mesothelioma to trigger the insurer's obligation."
Lord Clarke added: "The whole purpose of these policies was to insure employers against liability to their employees.
"That purpose would be frustrated if the insurers' submissions on this point were accepted."
Expert lawyer Helen Ashton from Irwin Mitchell, who represented the lead claimant in the case, said the long-awaited judgement provided "clarity, consistency and comfort for mesothelioma victims and their families.
"As well as the people currently directly affected by asbestos-related disease, this judgement means that the thousands of people who are yet to be given the devastating news that they have the deadly illness will at least know that their families can get access to justice and receive the financial security they need."
She said the sad fact was that many victims may not have lived long enough to learn that their families will now receive the compensation they deserve.
Ruth Durham, lead claimant in the case who had continued the legal battle in memory of her father Leslie Screach who died in 2003, said: "I am delighted to hear of the court's decision which will now see justice done for my father and the other mesothelioma sufferers.
"I was determined to see this through with a positive outcome for all those who, like my dad, suffered so terribly because of someone else's negligence."
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "This is a landmark ruling which will affect thousands of victims of asbestos.
"It is a disgrace that insurance companies went to such lengths to shirk their responsibilities.
"For callous insurers this means the responsibility holiday is over."
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