Insurance rater Best raises U.S. asbestos losses estimate to $85 bln

Mon Dec 17, 2012 5:11pm EST

Dec 17 (Reuters) - Insurance rating firm A.M. Best on Monday raised to $85 billion its estimate for losses that U.S. property and casualty insurers can ultimately expect from lawsuits brought by victims of asbestos exposure.

Best, the major rater of insurance companies, raised its estimated losses by $10 billion, saying that property and casualty insurers are incurring about $2 billion in losses each year while paying out $2.5 billion.

"With no end to these losses in sight ... it is clear that the asbestos problem will persist for many years to come," the New Jersey-based rating company wrote in a report.

Because it was once widely used as a fire-proofing material in construction, workers exposed to asbestos have driven a wave of litigation seeking damages.

Awards and settlements have grown higher as attorneys have focused in recent years on representing the sickest patients, such as those with the lethal cancer mesothelioma.

Best wrote that it made no change to its $42 billion estimate for environmental losses tied to asbestos, saying these have averaged less than $600 million a year since 2006.

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