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Pleural Plaques Compensation

18 December 2013

Prior to 2007, it was possible to pursue a civil claim for compensation in the UK if you were suffering from Pleural Plaques. However, in October 2007 the House of Lords ruled that this should end.

England and Wales are now the only countries within the UK that sufferers of Pleural Plaques are unable to claim compensation for this Asbestos related condition. Regulations have come into force in Scotland and Northern Ireland which allow Pleural Plaques sufferers to claim damages for the condition, leaving Welsh and English sufferers with no similar course of action.

Pleural Plaques are thickened patches of the lung lining caused by the inhalation of Asbestos fibres, that can become hard over time. They do not cause any illness or disability however they do indicate past exposure to Asbestos, and the possibility of developing future Asbestos related illnesses such as Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer or Asbestosis. Pleural Plaques are a clear indication that the person affected has been exposed to significant levels of Asbestos. They and their families live under the constant shadow of developing a horrendous and life threatening illness in the future.

The Scottish and Irish Governments have recognized the grave effect this has on the individuals concerned. It is hoped that a future Government in England and Wales will follow their lead. The CWU, TUC, other Unions and Asbestos Victims Campaigning groups and organisations and a number of Labour MPs and Lords will continue to fight for that change.

From the 1980s onwards, individuals in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) diagnosed with Pleural Plaques were able to claim damages from negligent employers and their insurers. However, in October 2007, whilst considering an appeal by the Insurance Industry, the House of Lords ruled that the presence of Pleural Plaques does not constitute actionable or compensatable damage. The Law Lords held that it is a fundamental requirement of a negligence action that the negligence causes injury and the claimant suffers damage as a result. Since, according to current medical knowledge, Plaques were harmless, there was no injury to compensate they declared.

In 2008, the then Labour Government sought views on whether to change English law to overturn this judgment or whether a no-fault scheme should be established to provide financial support. It considered authoritative reports from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) and others. In 2010 the Government announced its decision not to overturn the House of Lords ruling and to change English law. This was on the basis that there was still no evidence to show that Pleural Plaques would necessarily lead to Mesothelioma or other Asbestos-related diseases. Therefore they were unable to conclude that the Law Lords' decision should be overturned at that time or that an open-ended no-fault compensation scheme should be set up.

Whilst not overturning the House of Lords ruling the Government acknowledged the unique position of those individuals who had already begun, but not resolved, a legal claim for compensation for Pleural Plaques at the time of the Law Lords' ruling in October 2007. All such individuals in this limited category were given a one-off 5,000 payment from a time-limited, ex-statutory scheme and they had one year to lodge a claim from 2 August 2010 until 1 August 2011. The Justice Minister also outlined a package of other measures intended to increase understanding of Pleural Plaques and improve the claims process for Mesothelioma victims generally. Statutory payments currently made to Mesothelioma victims and their dependants were increased with effect from 1st April 2010.

Conversely, both the Scottish and subsequently the Northern Ireland Governments responded positively to the lobbying and campaigning of Trade Unions and Asbestos Victims Groups, by introducing legislation to overturn the 2007 House of Lords ruling. In April 2009, the Scottish Parliament passed The Damages (Asbestos-Related Conditions) (Scotland) Act. The major insurance companies launched and lost a legal bid to overturn the new law which allows victims of the Asbestos-related condition to claim damages. The Court of Session strongly rejected their legal challenge.

After awaiting the outcome of the Scottish legal challenge, the Northern Ireland Assembly followed the Scottish Parliament and introduced Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, restoring the right of people in Northern Ireland suffering from Pleural Plaques to claim compensation from 14 December 2011.

The current position in summary

Scotland

  • The Damages (Asbestos Related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009 allows civil claims for Pleural Plaques in Scotland.

Northern Ireland

  • The Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 restored the right of people in Northern Ireland suffering from Pleural Plaques to claim compensation.

England & Wales

  • In England and Wales, both the previous UK Labour Government and current Tory/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government has refused to follow the Scottish Government's and Northern Ireland Government's example and has ruled out re-instating the right to pursue civil damages claims for Pleural Plaques. The previous UK Labour Government instead introduced a time limited scheme allowing 5,000 payments to those victims who had commenced legal action before the October 2007 House of Lords Judgement, for England and Wales which closed to new applications on 1 August 2011. Following the General Election, the new Coalition Government has made several comments on the issue, but essentially has been content to follow the same policy as the former Labour Government. So as it stands there is no longer any provision to pay compensation to those who contracted Pleural Plaques from exposure to Asbestos in England or Wales.
  • Please note: If you currently reside in England or Wales, but contracted Pleural Plaques as a result of being exposed to Asbestos while working in Scotland or Northern Ireland, you may be able to pursue a civil claim for compensation and should consult the Union's Legal Services Department and Lawyers.

    Pleural Plaques and State Benefits / Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit

    The UK Government advisory body the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) was asked by the Government to consider whether compensation through the Industrial Injuries Scheme would be appropriate for people diagnosed with this condition. The Council recommended against including Pleural Plaques among the list of prescribed diseases compensated under the IIDB Scheme. There is therefore no entitlement to state (Government) benefit or compensation for this condition. The IIAC's full report was published in June 2009.