Pleural Plaques compensation law upheld in Scotland

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Insurance companies have lost their long standing legal battle to challenge the Scottish law that allows people suffering from asbestos-related pleural plaques to claim civil compensation.

The Damages (Asbestos-related conditions) (Scotland) Act was passed in 2009 allowing Scottish pleural plaques victims to claim civil compensation, even though pleural plaques ordinarily do not cause symptoms and are argued by those on the Defendant side not to amount to a “disease” in their own right.

Pleural Plaques are caused by very fine fibres of asbestos which scar the lining of the lungs in a characteristic way. A diagnosis of pleural plaques is usually made following a routine chest x-ray, even so it is distressing news for a victim to be told they have irreversible damage to their lungs, caused by inhalation of a substance that is widely regarded to be among the most carcinogenic. The worry for the sufferers concerned is, of course, that they may go on to contract other asbestos-related diseases including the deadly cancer mesothelioma.

Chest X Ray can reveal Pleural Plaques

The insurance companies, including big names like AXA, argued that the law was ‘flawed’ but the Court of Session upheld the Scottish Parliament's decision. The Scottish law had already overturned a landmark ruling made by the House of Lords which prevented people with pleural plaques from claiming compensation. This law still stands in the rest of the UK, but Scottish pleural plaques victims can now continue to claim compensation. Supporters of the law, such as Clydeside Action On Asbestos, argued that the benign scarring on lungs proves past exposure to asbestos and increases the likelihood that the sufferer will go on to develop fatal disease.

Insurers have now warned MSPs that they have opened the ‘floodgates’ for compensation claims and they even tried to argue that the law breaks European Convention on Human Rights provisions on property rights and constitutes unreasonable legal interference.

The Scottish government estimated that the pleural plaques compensation claim costs over the next 10 years would peak between £7m and £19m. But the insurance industry put the costs over the next 20 years at between £76m and £607m.

The Court of Session's judgement was welcomed by Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). He said: "We would sincerely hope that the insurance industry will now accept that the introduction of this legislation was entirely within the competence of the Scottish Parliament and now begin to pay compensation to those suffering from pleural plaques.

"It is deeply disappointing that insurers, having accepted the employers business and their insurance premiums continue to challenge any efforts to compensate workers suffering asbestos-related conditions. "

"Sufferers of pleural plaques suffer years of anxiety and distress and we believe should always have been compensated for this suffering."

Emma Costin, head of Industrial Disease claims at specialist law firm Simpson Millar LLP comments "The latest development in Scotland is a real blow to the Insurance Industry and once again throws into stark relief the absurdity that people with pleural plaques in Scotland can bring a civil claim, whilst their colleagues south of the border cannot. A diagnosis of pleural plaques is permanent and distressing to the victim, and those of us who represent claimants and trades unions will continue to campaign for a change in the law in Westminster".

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