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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Asbestos Litigation – Will the UK Reinstate Compensation for Pleural Plaques ?

How should governments and courts decide/define when persons have a condition that should warrant payment of compensation through tort claims or through government agency programs ? The question is relevant in many settings, but the issues I know best relate to asbestos litigation. The question is presently the subject of discussion in a variety of jurisdictions and contexts.

Issues of this sort are under discussion in the UK. There, asbestos-related cancers are increasing significantly, and so are lawsuits seeking damages for the cancers. Paying compensation for cancer is easy to understand in many instances. However, some groups want to go further. Thus, some constituencies are urging the UK government (Britain and Wales, for this purpose) to use legislation to change recent case law so that payments may or will be paid to persons who can be deemed to have a condition known as “pleural plaques.” Plaques are marks on a lining outside the lung, and the plaques are markers of past asbestos inhalation, but do not cause any impairment except, perhaps, in unique circumstances.

These issues arise because the House of Lords issued an opinion holding that common law compensation was not payable, concluding in essene that plaques do not constitute an injury. Subsequently, the UK Ministry of Justice issued a 9 July 2008 “Consultation” paper asking for views on whether the UK government should use legislation to allow or facilitate payment of compensation to persons with pleural plaques. The UK Consultation paper is a lengthy document setting out information about the issues, and five possible alternatives for government action, with a cost estimate for each of the five proposals. The government’s Consultation paper is available online at:

Many papers were submitted on both sides of the issues, and the collection will be posted here as time permits. For now, I’ve posted online an image of the paper I submitted in opposition to the two most extreme aspects of the proposals set out in the Consultation paper.

The UK Government is expected to submit a reply to all the papers, and the reply is expected during November 2008.

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