Birmingham law firm Buller Jeffries is heading for a Supreme Court showdown, after an initial ruling concerning claims over a rare form of cancer was appealed.
The firm, which has offices in Bennetts Hill, is acting for Zurich Insurance in one of the most complex litigation cases in recent years.
The decision this month in the Court of Appeal relates to a series of cases known as the Employer’s Liability Policy Trigger Litigation.
It concerns how, when and which insurers should respond to claims from victims of mesothelioma which is a rare form of cancer, often caused in a work environment, where asbestos particles have been inhaled.
Buller Jeffries, together with lawyers for other parties including local authorities, employers and victims, challenged a number of run-off insurers who contended that due to policy wording, there was no obligation on their part to compensate victims.
The High Court originally ruled that the employer’s liability policies that should respond to claims are those that were in force at the time of exposure to the harmful cancer causing materials and not those that were in place when the disease actually manifests, often some 30 to 40 years later.
The decision was appealed by run-off insurers who sought to apply an earlier Court of Appeal decision in a public liability claim involving Bolton Council to the employer’s liability cases.
Although the Court of Appeal endorsed in part the view of the original judgement, it was bound by the precedent set by Bolton case.
Only the Supreme Court can amend or overrule the precedent.
Derek Adamson, leader of the Buller Jeffries team which is now preparing to lodge an appeal, said: “We had hoped that the Court of Appeal would endorse the original trial judge’s ruling wholly, but it is a hugely complex case and not surprising that there are different approaches taken.
“Even so, a majority of the appeal judges supported our view and if it wasn’t for the precedent set in the Bolton case, I am confident that they would have found in our favour completely.
“The next step is the Supreme Court for clarity on the wording of such policies as the outcome has massive implications for all employers, their insurers and most importantly the victims of his dreadful and fatal disease.”
The firm said the long-awaited Court of Appeal decision “produces a divided situation with some policies being triggered and some not”.
In a statement, it added: “That said, a majority of the three appeal judges would have found against the run-off insurers completely were it not for the fact that they felt bound by the precedent set in the Bolton case.
“If it is correct to say that the Bolton case was binding on the Court of Appeal, then only the Supreme Court can amend or overrule that precedent.”
Buller Jeffries employs 27 lawyers at offices in Birmingham and Coventry. The firm has a core specialism in insurance litigation notably industrial disease and local authority liabilities. Clients include Birmingham City Council.
Buller Jeffries is holding a briefing on this subject on October 22.