It could take $17bn and 30 years to cure the opioid addiction completely 

Opioid addiction could potentially grow in significance for UK insurers, alongside weed killer and diesel fumes, according to law firm Clyde and Co.

Its exploration of potential legacy claims trends for 2020 also found that claims relating to exposure to glyphosate and diesel fumes during the course of an individual’s employment could increase in frequency in the UK this year.

Speaking at the firm’s Casualty 2020 event in London last December, Clyde and Co partner David Tait noted that there had already been claims in the UK for exposure to diesel fumes, explaining that this raised the likelihood of it becoming a significant issue for employers’ liability.

More chance of litigation

Tait believes that opioid addiction has “more of a chance” of leading to litigation in the UK.

“According to one case in the US, it will take $17bn (£12.92bn) and 30 years to cure opioid addiction in the state of Oklahoma alone. Here in the UK, one study has suggested that half-a-million people have been prescribed opioid-based medication for a period of over three years,” he explained.

Linked to this, he highlighted US litigation surrounding exposure to the chemical glyphosate, in the form of weed killer Roundup.

While there has been no successful UK claims to date, the scale of US pay outs is a concern for the insurance industry, especially as scientific evidence is not conclusive.

Tougher demands on scientific evidence

Meanwhile asbestos-related lung conditions, including mesothelioma, remain significant in the UK with approximately 2,500 deaths per year; this figure is expected to decrease from 2020 onwards due to the age of claimants and the overall reduction in the use of asbestos since the 1980s. Groups that are most likely to make claims now are former construction workers from the 1970s and 1980s.

While talc-related claims in respect of asbestos-related disease have increased in the US during the last few years, Tait did not consider it likely that the UK would see similar claims due to tougher demands on scientific evidence and the difficulty in establishing a causative link between the talc and the asbestos conditions.

Bereavement damages

Tait also noted the potential impact of a review of bereavement damages in England and Wales. Currently, there is a disparity between Scotland’s system compared with England and Wales.

For example, in Scotland, the range of family members who can claim following an individual’s death can include their spouse, parents, children, siblings and grandchildren, but in England and Wales only the spouse can make a claim.

However, moves are being introduced to change the system in England and Wales from fixed statutory payments to each claim being evaluated on its own merits.

Dramatic changes

If accepted, these changes would lead to dramatic changes in fatal claims values in the UK. Tait gave the example of bereavement damages in England and Wales currently attracting around £13,000, whereas in Scotland family claims could be high as £240,000.

“There is a fairly concerted campaign in England and Wales to adopt these changes to fatal claims values. If accepted, the changes would also affect all fatal claims, including road traffic accidents and accidents while at work.

“Some researchers have suggested that one in 14 cases of dementia are related to pollution. There is also a potential increase in the risk of motor neurone disease,” he added.

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