Compensation for Corsican Miners
More than eleven hundred former employees at an asbestos mine in Canari, Corsica were put at risk by occupational exposures received during twenty-six years of mining operations; of the 350 workers employed when the mine closed in 1965, only 50 are still alive. On October 26, 2004, a French administrative court ordered the owners of the redundant mine, Societe miniere de l'amiante (SMA), a division of Eternit, to compensate 13 injured miners and their families for asbestos-related diseases contracted as a result of the company's inexcusable faute (inexcusable negligence).1 The court awarded the plaintiffs a total of 1.5 million euros ($1.92m); individuals will receive from 90,000 euros ($115,200) to 200,000 euros ($256,000)
It is not known whether Eternit's insurers will be making a contribution to these payments. Nevertheless, European insurers are concerned about the implications of this decision:
the verdict raised the stakes considerably in France, and by implication in other European countries, in cases involving asbestos. Until recently, as most victims received medical treatment provided by government health plans, additional compensation has been minimal. The French decision indicates that this may be about to change, which could have serious consequences for insurers The French Secu posted over $10 billion in losses last year. As a result they can be expected to pursue such claims, along with the individual victims and their families.
Reinsurers meeting in Switzerland in October, 2004 were seriously worried about the impact of asbestos, with one German insurer saying: "the most important emergent risks in Europe are asbestos, asbestos, asbestos." Articles which appeared in The Guardian and The Independent on November 2, 2004, detailed predictions made by actuarials that by 2034, the total of UK asbestos compensation awards could be £8bn-£20bn.2 The report entitled: UK Asbestos - The Definitive Guide warns that insurers might be expected to pay up to half this amount, with the Government paying the rest.3 The Chairman of the Working Party which wrote this study said:
Asbestos is certainly not yesterday's problem - its effects will continue to affect insurance companies and healthcare providers in the West for decades to come.
Perhaps of more concern are the appalling demographic and social consequences of asbestos manufacture and use that will inevitably be seen in the developing world over the next 30 to 50 years. Urgent action therefore needs to be taken by the international community to help those nations learn the lessons of Western Europe and North America.
2The analysts estimate that there will be between 80,000-200,000 claims made for asbestos compensation in the coming thirty years.
3Daley J. Insurers warned UK asbestos payouts could soar to £20bn. The Independent. November 2, 2004.
November 3, 2004