Court of Appeal has overturned High Court employer’s liability ruling

Insurers faced confusion today after a legal ruling failed to clarify employers’ liability for asbestos claims.

In a series of cases known as the Employer’s Liability Policy Trigger Litigation, the Court of Appeal was divided on a high court ruling that employer’s liability policies should respond to claims that were in force at the time of the claimant’s exposure to the cancer causing material instead of those in place when the disease actually developed.

A Zurich spokesperson confirmed the insurer was seeking permission to clarify the ruling in the Supreme Court. “We are concerned that the Court of Appeal has not followed the 2008 decision of the High Court, which was consistent with the way active insurers - including those involved in this litigation - have always handled industrial disease claims, including those for mesothelioma,” he said.

Buller Jeffries partner Derek Adamson, who acted on behalf of the insurer, said: “The next step is the Supreme Court for clarity on the wording of such policies as the outcome has massive implications for all employers, their insurers and most importantly the victims of this dreadful and fatal disease.”

Berrymans Lace Mawer partner Henry Birmingham said: "The eagerly anticipated Court of Appeal judgment in the EL Trigger Litigation can only be described as complex.

“Private companies, the public sector and their insurers hoped for clarity and certainty on who was liable to compensate victims of historic asbestos exposure. However, in the extraordinary judgment which spanned more than 160 pages, the waters have been muddied somewhat. The lack of certainty is deeply troubling for all involved.”