Supreme Court rules that low level exposure to asbestos could lead to claims

Insurers could face a spike in mesothelioma claims after the Supreme Court ruled that a minimal exposure to asbestos could give rise to a claim.

In two mesothelioma cases, Willmore v. Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council and Sienkiewicz v. Greif (UK) Ltd, the court rejected defendant appeals from local authorities even though claimants’ exposure to asbestos in both cases was regarded as sparse.

In Greif, Mrs Costello had been an office worker at a factory. Her occupational exposure to asbestos was deemed modest, increasing by only 18% due to her surroundings.

In Knowsley, the defendant local authority was responsible for a school attended by Mrs Willmore as a pupil where, it was alleged she was exposed to asbestos contained in the roof tiles covering part of the school's ceiling.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected to have a significant impact on public and employer liability insurers because the judgement will allow mesothelioma claims to be brought against a wider variety of employers who have been responsible for low level exposure to asbestos.

Law firm Beachcroft partner Will Potts said: “We still don't know a great deal about the mechanism by which mesothelioma is caused, but the Supreme Court judgment makes it clear that technical arguments about epidemiological evidence do not sit comfortably with mesothelioma claims."

“Once a claimant has shown that negligent exposure materially increased the risk of mesothelioma, a liability finding is likely to follow,” he added.

Hill Dickinson partner David Dunne said: "The findings of exposure in both cases, particularly in Willmore, were patently based on very tenuous evidence. Indeed, a number of the Supreme Court Judges felt moved to offer some adverse comment about those findings.

"Whilst the Judgment may cause Trial Judges to adapt a more balanced approach in future, the eventual outcome of Willmore proves that even the most generous interpretation of exposure evidence by a Judge in favour of a Claimant is unlikely to be disturbed by the Appeal Courts."