As one often does on the streets of EC3, I recently bumped into a ‘London market face’ and we had the what-are-you doing-now conversation. My former colleague remarked how things had changed in the market from when we both set out on our insurance careers; how the market had become more professional, and how the things that had blighted it in our formative years – the collapse of the Sass syndicate, the infamous LMX spiral, the claims and bankruptcies resulting from Asbestos – had all gone away.
After we parted, I thought about what he had said and, like the American TV detective Lieutenant Columbo, there was just one thing bothering me. Asbestos. Gone away.
Asbestos reared its very ugly head in the insurance market around the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s becoming the most prevalent industrial disease covered under Employers’ Liability or Workers’ Compensation policies. Fuelled by unexpectedly large legal awards in US courts, the claims spiralled and, in the case of Lloyd’s, many individual names went bankrupt as their syndicates had indemnified general liability insurance written from the 1940s to the mid-1970s for companies with exposure to Asbestos claims.
To be clear, Asbestosis is the condition resulting from exposure to asbestos and is usually associated with professions such as construction workers, especially laggers and shipbuilders. This was a consequence of the widespread industrial use of asbestos from the 1950s to the 1980s. While a potentially disabling condition, worse was to come in the form of Mesothelioma, a cancer that can take many years to develop following the inhalation of asbestos fibres.