A Liverpool widow who watched her hard-working husband die a tragic and painful death after being negligently exposed to asbestos is now suffering at the hands of two insurance companies as they squabble over how much compensation each should pay.

Mr John Hughes died, aged 64, in September 2005 from mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos by the now defunct telecoms giant, Plessey. Mr Hughes was an engineer at the company’s factory in Edge Lane, Liverpool, working from 1957 until his retirement in 1998. He came into contact with asbestos whilst working in the vicinity of maintenance men who were themselves handling asbestos lagging on factory pipes.

Insurers are delaying compensation for asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma

Court proceedings were issued whilst Mr Hughes was still alive, but despite the fact that insurers Zurich and Chester Street accept that compensation should be paid to Mr Hughes’ widow, Mrs Dorothy Hughes, only a partial payment has been given. Because Plessey UK Limited is a dissolved company with no assets it has not been possible to use enforcement proceedings against the defendants. Therefore liability to pay compensation lies with the insurers who are in dispute about the percentage amount that each should contribute.

Furthermore the insurers only agreed to settle a day before the case was due to go to trial forcing Mrs Hughes to the brink of even longer drawn out legal action.

Representing the Hughes family, Diana Fos of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “We see examples of insurers behaving badly, denying and delaying payouts to genuinely ill, injured and aggrieved people. But this really takes the biscuit. Two insurers who were very happy to accept premiums are now bickering over who must pay what. Meanwhile Mrs Hughes has no idea when the remaining payment will be made, surviving currently on the comparatively small payment that’s already been given.”

Commenting, Mrs Hughes said: “My husband died prematurely because of the negligent action of his employer. We started this action whilst John was alive, and now, a year after his death, the insurance companies are making a bad situation worse by disagreeing about the payment. What has our society come to if companies can get away with killing people and then delaying compensation?”

Earlier this year the government intervened to ensure that victims of mesothelioma would receive their full compensation entitlement regardless of whether more than one insurer was involved. This followed a House of Lords decision which had previously sided with employers. “The Compensation Act 2006 means that insurers can no longer go to extreme lengths to avoid paying compensation to victims and their families,” said Diana Fos. “That said, we’ve a long way to go if insurers act in the way they have in this case.”