Thompsons Solicitors, the UK's largest law firm acting for the victims of asbestos, today welcomed a High Court ruling that the Royal & SunAlliance (RSA) is liable for compensation claims against the asbestos manufacturer Turner and Newall (T&N).

But the firm said the victory would not benefit most of T&N's victims who would still be unable to claim compensation for destroying their lives. The court ruling only affects people exposed to asbestos after 1969 and the majority of claims in the UK which T&N face relate to pre-1969 exposure.

T&N went into administration in October 2001 and filed for bankruptcy in the US where there are hundreds of thousands of asbestos claims against it.

Second trial ahead for asbestos victims

Ian McFall, head of Thompsons' national asbestos team, said that while he welcomed the judgment, the T&N story continued to be a terrible tragedy for the firm's former employees.

"This ruling is a relief for many of our clients who have been awaiting the outcome of this trial. But this is only the first hurdle they need to overcome. The Royal are still fighting this case to try to avoid paying anything to asbestos victims based on further legal arguments which will be dealt with at a second trial."

And he pointed out that the second stage of the RSA trial, in which the insurance giant is arguing that it is not liable for claims, could still rob asbestos victims of any right to compensation if the Court accepts that T&N did not give material disclosure of relevant information to the Royal at the time the insurance policies were written.

Asbestos cancer, mesothelioma

Colin and Ronald Laidler, the sons of Ronald Laidler senior, a T&N employee who died of mesolthelioma, the deadly asbestos cancer, on 26 September 2002 said:

"We are glad the judge held the insurers liable. We hope that it will make them pay up now and stop trying to use clever legal tricks to wriggle out of their responsibilities. This whole business has been sickening and has added even more uncertainty and stress to the grief we have already suffered in losing our father to this terrible illness."

Susan Wilde, whose husband Geoffrey - who worked for T&N from 1967 to 1970 - died of mesothelioma in August 2001 said:

"My husband died a cruel and painful death. While no amount of compensation will bring him back or make up for his death, it is only right that RSA is made to honour its responsibilities. I am very relieved that the courts have seen sense and delivered some sort of justice, but angry that we have had to wait so long for this day. It cannot be right that insurers can try to use the law in this way in order to get out of paying innocent victims like me."