Dealing With Historic Disease Claims

Paul Utting

Below are the most common forms of industrial illness / disease claims currently being presented to insurers and represent a growing proportion of our workload.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss • Vibration White Finger • Mesothelioma • Asbestosis • Repetitive Strain Injury • Occupational Asthma • Occupational Dermatitis • Cumulative Back Injury

They’re almost exclusively an employer’s liability claim as they all stem from continuous exposure to either a substance or practice/procedure.  For example Vibration White Finger is common amongst ex-miners, who routinely used high pressure drills; Repetitive Strain injury amongst typists and Occupational Dermatitis often affects vehicle mechanics.

A common factor to all these claims is that exposure often occurs over a prolonged period of time and claims are made toward the end of a claimant’s career or after they’ve retired.  All involve debilitating conditions, which have an adverse effect upon quality of life and in the case of Asbestosis and Mesothelioma are life threatening.

A claimant usually has a solicitor involved, who will take a broad brush approach and pursue not only their present but also former employers.  Obviously in the case of retired individuals this has the scope to be a 40/50 year period covering numerous employers and insurers.  If the claimant is retired and the effects of their condition have only manifested themselves in their 80’s it means that their working life would have commenced in the 1940’s or 50’s.

It is a significant fact that Employers Liability insurance only became compulsory in 1972, as a result of the Employers Liability Insurance Act 1969; therefore businesses had no legal obligation to purchase Employers Liability insurance prior to this time.

Due to the historic nature of many of these claims, more than one insurer can be involved and it’s the client’s responsibility to provide records for all these insurers. Tracing historical records can be difficult and the involvement of more than one historical insurer and mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry, makes tracing historical records difficult.  However, through access to the Employers Liability Tracing Office (which provides access to insurance company’s historical data) and our own records, we assist clients as much as possible. As a final resort, we can contact all the major insurers asking if they can trace our client as having been one of their policyholders.  Unfortunately, if insurer details cannot be traced then the client may be obliged to accept responsibility for the “untraced insurer” proportion of a claimant’s damages and costs.

It is standard practice for the most recent insurer to take responsibility for management of the claim, although on occasions the insurer with the greatest exposure will take over the management, appointing solicitors to accept service of any claim and request time in which to make a full investigation.

Our role is to attempt to get all our client’s relevant insurers advised of the incident and make sure they accept their responsibilities. We then maintain a watching brief on the progress of the case and assist/intervene when required.  As mentioned above, a greater level of involvement is required when there is an absence of insurer details.

It is noticeable that these claims, whilst involving a lot of work for us and insurers, often don’t get pursued to a conclusion.


Hugh J Boswell Insurance Brokers



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