Elusive Insurers

Asbestos diseases develop long after the exposure to the substance has taken place.  When we are approached by new clients they often detail a long employment history with various employers spanning decades.  Having identified an asbestos related condition for which compensation can be claimed, our next hurdle is to identify a party to sue.  This can often be very difficult due to the passage of time as many companies or firms simply no longer exist.

The next step is to identify the insurance company who were on cover during the time when the client was exposed to asbestos dust.  Again, due to the passage of time, this can often prove difficult.  The Association of British Insurers has a search facility which allows solicitors to search for insurance details for companies which no longer trade.  The company’s details are entered with a request for insurance details for the period of the client’s employment.  The search request is then sent to all insurance companies with a request that they confirm whether they have any trace of having insured the particular company.  Staggeringly only an estimated 23% of submitted searches in 2005 provided a positive response.  This does not always indicate that no insurance can be traced.  Insurers are not obliged to respond to the request and therefore regularly do not carry out any enquiries or supply traced details.

A recent case highlighted this inadequacy in the system.  A 76 year old grandfather was diagnosed with mesothelioma following his exposure to asbestos during his working life.  He initially instructed a local firm of solicitors who carried out an ABI search on the company he had worked for as they no longer traded.  The enquiry received a negative response stating that no insurers could be found.  Mr. Cadwallader later instructed a specialist firm of solicitors to further investigate his claim.  A further ABI search was submitted, this time returning a positive result confirming Zurich to be the insurers for the relevant period of his employment.  The claim was settled for £140,000.  Had the original negative ABI result been accepted, Mr. Cadwallader’s claim for compensation would have failed.   The ABI are being urged to improve their system.

At Oliver & Co. we have come across this hurdle time and time again and have developed a secondary system for tracing insurers.  We have developed contacts with some of the major insurance companies and carry our further enquiries with them before accepting a negative insurance search result.