Insurance industry and Westminster at loggerheads again.
MPs have accused the insurance industry of hypocrisy in the latest row between politicians and the market, this time over compensation for victims of asbestos poisoning.
Labour MP Michael Clapham likened the industry to a jackal and criticised its stance in a case over compensation for fatal asbestos poisoning, which came to court last week. The case, known as the trigger case, centres on when liability is triggered.
Clapham told the Commons in a debate on asbestos illnesses: “If the insurance industry is successful in the trigger case, it will be able to escape liability completely. The insurance industry comes back time and again, like a jackal, to tackle the issue of occupational disease caused by asbestos.”
The ABI’s director of general insurance, Nick Starling, who was singled out for particular criticism, hit back, accusing the MP of failing to understand the issues. He said: “There were some pretty offensive things said about the insurance industry. There were two things they got completely wrong, the first being the trigger case, which is actually one case between insurance companies. And the second was a reference to legislation in Scotland. They said that until recently in Scotland, if you died then your claim died with you, so the insurers did everything they could to make the claim last as long as possible.
“That’s completely wrong; it was the other way around. What happened was that once you were dead, there was more compensation. So the dilemma for families was whether to push the claim through quickly, or put it through so that it was paid after the death and they got more support.”
The trigger case opened at the Royal Courts of Justice last week. It is concerned with whether an employer becomes liable for mesothelioma when the disease is caused or when the symptoms show – and therefore which insurer is liable to meet their costs. It does not question eligibility for compensation for mesothelioma, which is a fatal disease.
The row comes two weeks after floods recovery minister John Healey blamed insurers for not doing enough to rehouse flood victims.
In a separate series of events, also linked to asbestos, MPs continue to step up the pressure to overturn the ruling by the House of Lords in October, that says victims of pleural plaques – symptomless growths on the lungs caused by asbestos – cannot claim compensation.
A government consultation into the House of Lords’ ruling is expected to begin this month. The government plans to announce its decision by November in time for the Queen’s speech.