Een Engelse verzekeringsmaatschappij wil weten hoe groot het risico is dat ze, via hun klanten, claims krijgen met betrekking tot gezondheidsschade door meeroken. Een dikke week geleden werd een dergelijke claim door een rechtbaak afgewezen, maar de verzekeraar verwacht dat er steeds meer pogingen zullen worden gedaan in de toekomst.
De uitslag van dit onderzoek kan interessant zijn omdat het nog steeds in twee richtingen kan gaan: óf de onafhankelijke commissie die wordt opgezet ontdekt dat het bewijs voor deze schade niet aanwezig is, óf de claims van de anti-rokenbeweging zijn waar en men zal de premies voor de klanten, werkgevers, moeten gaan verhogen.
The research comes as insurers have begun to receive claims for Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS). Craig Templeton, head of liability claims, said Norwich received “a handful” of claims while collectively UK insurers had received “less than 50” claims.
He said the public was becoming more aware of passive smoking due to the gradual introduction of smoking bans in pubs and restaurants.
“This is something that has come on to our radar and we want to investigate and see if it is significant or not,” he said. “We are investigating the legal background; what is the legislation and what is the likelihood of someone making a successful claim.”
Norwich Union has appointed law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer to set up a body of experts to look at the medical evidence behind links between passive smoking and the development of subsequent illness. Berrymans will look at medical publications, such as the Lancet, as well as information on the internet about passive smoking.
Mr Templeton was quick to point out that “ETS is nothing on the same scale as asbestos” but he said passive smoking was something that was “very difficult to make a judgment on as there are so many other factors which have come into play here, like whether the claimant is suffering from asthma”.
Norwich Union, which provides cover for 700,000 businesses in the UK, is the first insurer known to be commissioning research into ETS, although other companies are aware of its potential for lawsuits. A spokesman for Zurich said: “We are continuing to monitor developments in what is a very difficult and complex legal and medical area.”
Worries about ETS have been exacerbated as people take claims to the courts. Last month, a pub manager in Sunderland claimed passive smoking gave her throat problems, causing her to quit her job after 11 years.
The pub owners admitted breaches in the ventilation system, but she lost her case due to a lack of medical evidence.