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Families win asbestos claim ruling

Thousands of relatives of industrial workers who died of an asbestos-related lung cancer will get compensation as a result of a "landmark" insurance liability ruling by the UK's highest court.

The Supreme Court decided that liability was "triggered" when employees were exposed to asbestos dust, not when symptoms of mesothelioma emerged sometimes decades later.

Solicitors said the ruling meant that victims were covered by policies in place when asbestos fibres were inhaled - and employers' insurers would have to meet compensation claims.

Families said they hoped that the decision by a panel of five Supreme Court justices in London would end years of litigation and lead to speedy insurance payouts.

Judges said industrial diseases which could lie dormant for long periods raised "peculiar" legal difficulties and liability for deaths caused by mesothelioma - a "hideous" and "inevitably fatal" cancer of lung linings - had "pre-occupied" courts in recent years.

Union bosses and victims' families criticised insurance firms who fought the case - saying they should have accepted responsibility and spent money given to lawyers on compensation.

"This is a landmark ruling which will affect thousands of victims of asbestos," said Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union.

"It is a disgrace that insurance companies went to such lengths to shirk their responsibilities. For callous insurers this means the responsibility holiday is over."

Municipal Mutual Insurance (MMI), one of four insurance firms which featured in the litigation, said it had "sought resolution" of the issue in order to provide "greater certainty".

"Whilst the ruling does not reflect MMI's favoured outcome, we welcome the clarity this judgment brings as it enables MMI to determine the extent of its liabilities and the available options for the future of MMI and its business," said a spokeswoman.

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