Four firms challenge decision that liability is triggered at time of exposure to deadly substance

The battle over asbestos compensation is to rumble on after four insurers appealed against a High Court verdict on the “policy trigger”.

The four companies – Builders’ Accident Insurance (BAI), Excess, Independent and Municipal Mutual – have lodged papers to the Court of Appeal against the High Court ruling last November.

In the High Court, Mr Justice Burton backed the “policy trigger” liability argument, which holds insurers responsible at the time of an employee’s exposure to asbestos.

The insurers – which have ceased trading – will dispute the ruling, saying liability should be triggered when the mesothelioma lung disease manifests itself.

Derek Adamson, partner at law firm Buller Jeffries, which represented Zurich, the insurer that now owns Municipal Mutual’s book of business and supports the court’s original ruling, said the appeal would be heard at some point between 2 June and 2 October. The hearing is expected to last between five and 10 days.

However, the case could then move to the House of Lords.

Adamson said: “There is every chance it could go to the House of Lords. I have little doubt that we would go to the House of Lords if we lost. It may be a bit difficult to predict if our opponents lost again. It would depend on what the Court of Appeal said.”

Zurich maintains that if the four insurers win the legal argument, many victims of asbestos could be left without compensation. The four argue that courts should take a “literal” interpretation of the liability policies, which would work in their favour.

Neil Hackett, manager at loss adjuster at Garwyn, said because of the sufferers and families waiting for compensation, the courts would normally deal with the case quickly, but commitments of the different legal teams meant it would take time to bring them together.