Equitas shareholders were warned last week that the future of the company hangs in the balance due to an explosion of asbestos claims.

Claims director Scott Moser told the meeting of reinsured names that there are four times as many lawsuits compared to predictions of two years ago.

He said the problem had been made worse by US courts combining huge numbers of cases for trial, and the fact that many claimants were not ill.

“The rise in asbestos claims filings represents the most serious threat to Equitas' financial well-being,” he said.

Equitas, set up five years ago to run-off Lloyd's prior-1992 liabilities, said there had been a 33% rise in asbestos filings in 1999 and a 20% increase in 2000 filings.

But the company told Names it would not support payments to claimants with no health problems, and added that it had increased reserves substantially to cope with outstanding claims.