Asbestos Compensation Claims Are an Insurance Industry Time Bomb just waiting to go off – If the current law is successfully challenged!
The use of asbestos was banned over thirty years ago, but the UK Insurance Industry now faces a time bomb of claims from people directly or indirectly exposed to the deadly substance.
Asbestos was once hailed as a miracle product but its use has exacted a terrible price for those exposed to it. Diseases caused by ingestion into the lungs such as Asbestosis and Mesothelioma may take over forty years to become apparent, and the true cost of the substance use in damages claims, is only just beginning to occur.
Asbestos has been used by man since ancient Greece for its fire resistant properties, but even then it was recorded that slaves exposed to it were dying from terrible lung disease and breathing difficulties.
In the twentieth century Asbestos was used in all sorts of construction and manufacturing processes. In every public building you would find pipes and boilers covered with the material. Shipbuilders and dockyards were particularly prevalent in its use and it was not uncommon to regularly see old ‘laggers’ and pipe workers coughing up the so called ‘Dockers oysters’. Offices were also exposed to asbestos with the use in partition walls and suspended ceilings. In the home it was used in all sorts of ways ranging from ironing boards to car brake pads and shed roof coverings.
By far the most deadly variety of asbestos is ‘blue asbestos’ of which a single strand in the lungs can cause the deadly disease years later.
The first asbestos related industrial injury claims appeared in the 1960′s and have risen dramatically since then. The use of the material in the UK was stopped by the H&SE (Health and Safety Executive) in the 1970′s but it was only finally banned in 1980. During that time many asbestos removal firms sprung up primarily to remove the substance from public buildings such as hospitals and schools. By 2003 it is estimated that the number of direct asbestosis claims accounted for a payout of over 1.3 billion pounds in the UK.
There are four recognised types of asbestosis related disease ranging from the savage lung cancer mesothelioma which usually kills within a year, through to what are known as ‘pleural plaques’ for which legislation in the UK does not currently allow claims, though this is set to change and could trigger billions of pounds worth of claims.
Pleural plaques are areas of scar tissue on the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos.
Although not directly covered for claims as the cause and outcomes cannot be proven, UK Insurance companies used to pay out small amounts to compensate for the anxiety of the possibility of the plaques developing into something more serious such as mesothelioma. In 2007 the House of Lords ruled that these conditions are no longer entitled to compensation, though this is currently being challenged by the Scottish Courts and others and is expected to be overturned.
The United States is about twenty years ahead of the UK in asbestos related claims with more than three quarters of a million claims being paid out since 1980. The vast majority of these claims were for pleural plaques and the cost so far is estimated to be around $120 billion, which has been paid out by US and foreign underwriters.
In the UK it is not as easy to bring a claim for asbestosis as it is in America where class actions against the manufacturers of asbestos can sue a multitude of companies who each pay a small amount of damages. In the UK even though more people are expected to die from exposure, causality and proximate cause need to be proved before any legal action can be taken.
The worrying thing for Insurance company claims departments is that the range and spread of claims for asbestosis has changed dramatically in recent years as the true cost is exposed. In the past the majority of claims were from laggers and those directly involved in the use of asbestos, mostly in the industrial parts of the country.
Claims are now being made from all over the UK from for example, carpenters, plumbers, teachers and family members of those who worked with asbestos, such as wives washing clothes and children who greeted their fathers after work.
According to the health and safety executive, the body in charge of workplace safety in the UK, there is still over half a million tonnes of deadly blue and brown asbestos and nearly 3 million tonnes of white asbestos in buildings around the UK. Each year over 2500 people die from mesothelioma.
Although claims for mesothelioma are expected to peak by 2012 as those directly exposed to it will all be dead, the ticking time bomb for all asbestos claims is predicted to continue until 2040. By this time over 200000 claims will have been made which will cost the UK Insurance industry in the region of 10 billion pounds, which the Insurance companies will have to set aside in claims reserves.