No Justice for Pleural Plaques sufferers in England and Wales


There is serious disappointment for sufferers of the asbestos-related condition of pleural plaques who live in England and Wales. After more than a year's wait to see if they can claim compensation for pleural plaques, their hopes have been dashed by the Government which has announced that it will not overturn the October 2007 House of Lords ruling that 'pleural plaques does not constitute actionable and compensationable damage'.

On 8 January 2010 shipyard workers in Scotland were delighted to be given the go ahead to claim compensation for pleural plaques after the Court of Session in Edinburgh threw out a challenge mounted by a consortium of Insurers to an Act of the Scottish Parliament the previous year which did overturn the ruling.

However, in a statement released on February 25 2010, the Justice Secretary Jack Straw said "While the current medical evidence is clear that pleural plaques are a marker of exposure to asbestos, and that exposure to asbestos significantly increases the risk of asbestos-related disease, any increased risk of a person with pleural plaques developing an asbestos-related disease arises because of that person’s exposure to asbestos rather than because of the plaques themselves. However, if new medical or other significant evidence were to emerge, the government would obviously reassess the situation."

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) released this statement in response: "We always believed the House of Lords’ ruling should be overturned, so the Government’s decision on pleural plaques is a disappointing end to a long, drawn out consultation process. But we do recognise and welcome the Government’s commitment to improve the law in other areas, and its proposals for change to help victims of mesothelioma. We are particularly pleased the Government has recognised the need to resolve difficulties experienced by mesothelioma sufferers as a result of differences in the value of claims which are settled before or after the death of the person concerned, as this is something APIL has been working towards for many years. It is now imperative that this long awaited, positive proposal is not buried in the aftermath of the general election. The Government’s move to take action to increase the upfront payments currently made to mesothelioma sufferers and their dependants, and the fact that the new payments will be available from April, is a very welcome development."

Emma Costin, Head of Industrial Disease for Simpson Millar LLP, had this to say:

"The announcement by the Ministry of Justice will be welcomed by the Insurance Industry, and even on conservative estimates will save the industry millions of pounds. However it leaves victims of pleural plaques and their families without redress and unable to call to account those responsible for exposing them to asbestos and for causing them irreversible scarring to their lungs. Those that suffer from pleural plaques live in the knowledge that they are at increased risk of serious asbestos disease because the plaques themselves are a physical sign that their bodies have been damaged by asbestos. Every cold or cough for them is a worry that they are about to succumb to serious asbestos disease."

"The MOJ also announced plans to create an Employers' Liability Tracing Bureau which I am gratified to note has been welcomed by Claimant and Defendant representatives alike since it is likely to result in decreased processing time for claims for serious asbestos disease. Historically one of the reasons why claims for serious asbestos injury have cost the Insurance Industry so much is the length of time it so often takes to trace the Defendant company and their insurer. The voluntary tracing service maintained by the ABI has a shameful success rate, even for policies that post date 1972 when EL insurance became compulsory."

"The ABI are less enthusiastic about the proposal to create a fund of last resort. However once again those that deal on a daily basis with the victims of asbestos disease and their families maintain that it is vital that such a body is created as soon as possible. All too often innocent Claimants are turned away at their time of greatest need either because the Defendant cannot be traced, the Insurer cannot be traced or even because the unscrupulous former employer had no policy of insurance (or at the time this was not compulsory) and is now dissolved or otherwise without means. I call upon the ABI to wholeheartedly support this measure, particularly now that the MOJ has confirmed that the position on pleural plaques will remain unaltered, which is clearly going to save the Insurers millions."

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