Asbestos Exclusions Being Considered in Germany
When insurance premiums are due, payment must be made in full and on time. When an insurance claim is made, it is highly unlikely that full compensation will be received in a timely manner. Insurers are known to wear two faces. One example of such duplicitous behaviour has been exhibited by the German Insurers’ Association, Deutsche Vericherungswirtschaft (GDV), which privately told members that: "The (asbestos) situation in the US has caused the GDV to consider recommending an asbestos exclusion." Publicly, the GDV refused to confirm this advice saying: "There will be no such recommendation, if only for cartel reasons."1 When pressed, a GDV spokesperson admitted that an asbestos exclusion for international businesses may be issued as a GDV guideline. Clearly, German insurers have seen the writing on the wall. They are worried about the escalation of asbestos disease claims in the U.S., landmark legal decisions by the House of Lords and French Supreme Court and the impact asbestos claims are having on insurance company share prices.
It is not only international asbestos liabilities that German insurers are seeking to escape. According to an article in Insurance Day, they "no longer want to cover asbestos damages in any countries." In 2000, there were 957 asbestos-related deaths in Germany; in 2001 there were 931. Scientists predict that between 2002-2020, 20,000 more Germans will die from asbestos-related diseases. These numbers have started alarm bells ringing in the German insurance industry even though so far, not one German industrial company has been ordered to compensate injured victims. Under German law, occupational disease claims are paid for by the public-law occupational accident insurers2. Once the number of asbestos victims starts to rise, the lack of a blanket asbestos exclusion in German policies could expose the industry to serious risk. Enterprising civil servants and plaintiffs’ attorneys might look for and find ways of off-loading asbestos liabilities from the public to the private sector; it is no wonder that German insurers are trying to find a way out.
January 17, 2003
1German insurer body pushes for an asbestos exclusion by Herbert Fromme in Insurance Day, 6 November, 2002, page 1.
2In return for contributions from all German companies, public-law occupational accident insurers cover corporate liabilities. According to one German lawyer, workers in Italy, Turkey, Greece or elsewhere who succumb to asbestos-related diseases due to occupational asbestos exposure in Germany can bring claims under the Berufsgenossenschaften scheme.