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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

London Rejects Pleural Plaques Claiming

As it happens, I’m speaking this week at an asbestos litigation conference. Yesterday’s topic was asbestos bankruptcies and today’s topic is international asbestos litigation. It is therefore ironic that yesterday the goverment in London publicly confirmed in a press release from the MOJ that the government will not reinstate pleural plaques claiming.

More analysis will have to be done later. For now, the bottom lines are:

  1. plaques claiming will not be reinstated

  2. some money will be paid by the government to persons who asserted plaques claims prior to the ruling by the House of Lords that held plaques noncompensable

  3. the government is going to try to foster recoveries from insurers or guarantee funds, and

  4. there will be more funding for scientific reasearch focused on asbestos-related disease

Pasted below is the full text of the Ministry of Justice’s release. The text includes links to the source materials.

The Ministry of Justice today announced a range of measures to support people who have been exposed to asbestos.

This follows a government consultation on how best to respond to a Law Lords’ ruling of 17 October 2007, which decided pleural plaques – an asbestos-related condition – were not compensatable damage.

The measures announced today include:

  1. An extra-statutory scheme of fixed payments of £5,000 for individuals who had begun, but not resolved, a legal claim for compensation for pleural plaques at the time of a House of Lords ruling in October 2007, which ended the right to receive compensation.

  2. The creation of an Employers’ Liability Tracing Office to help people who develop an asbestos-related disease to trace the relevant insurer and obtain full compensation.

  3. A Department of Work and Pensions consultation, currently underway, on the creation of an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau, which will act as a fund of last resort for sufferers of asbestos-related disease who cannot trace the insurance records needed to gain compensation.

  4. Increased upfront payments for mesothelioma sufferers and their dependents.

  5. A commitment to expand research in this area, including considering how best to establish a world-leading network of medical practitioners to research asbestos related disease, with government support for increased investment alongside £3 million of funding from the insurance industry.

  6. A working group of claimant solicitors, trade unions, insurers, the judiciary and civil servants to examine litigation practices and procedures for compensation claims relating to mesothelioma, and to identify options for streamlining them in order to reduce the time taken to conclude cases.

  7. Consideration of changes to the law to clarify the limitation period to bring a claim for mesothelioma, and resolve differences in claims settled before or after death.

  8. The Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill, currently before Parliament, which aims to simplify the process of bringing claims against the insurers of companies which no longer exist.

The Ministry of Justice has carefully considered the question of whether to restore the right to claim compensation for pleural plaques, since the Law Lords’ ruling in October 2007.

On the basis of medical evidence received during the course of this review, including reports from the Chief Medical Officer for England and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, we are unable to conclude that the Law Lords’ decision should be overturned at this time. The medical evidence is clear that while pleural plaques are a marker of exposure to asbestos, they are generally symptomless, are not harmful and do not become harmful. 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.

We do however acknowledge that a particular grievance is felt by individuals who had already begun a legal claim for compensation for pleural plaques at the time of the House of Lords’ decision in October 2007, who had an understandable expectation that their claim would result in compensation. The government has therefore decided to make extra-statutory payments of £5,000 to individuals in this limited category.

Secretary of State Jack Straw said:

‘We are firmly committed to supporting people with asbestos-related diseases and intend to build on and extend the measures which we have already introduced in this area.

‘To that end the government will work to increase medical research into asbestos-related diseases, speed up and simplify claims procedures for mesothelioma sufferers, increase interim payments for mesothelioma sufferers and their dependents, and improve the tracing of past insurance policies needed to make claims. We have already published a consultation on establishing an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau which would serve as a fund of last resort so that all who develop mesothelioma receive full compensation.

‘In addition, we will make extra-statutory payments to those who had begun but not resolved a legal claim for compensation for pleural plaques prior to the House of Lords’ decision in 2007.’

Notes for editors

2. Pleural plaques are small localised areas of fibrosis found within the pleura of the lung caused by asbestos exposure. They do not usually cause significant symptoms (if any) and do not impair lung function. Pleural plaques are in themselves benign but are a marker of exposure to asbestos. On the basis of certain High Court decisions in the 1980s, it was possible for people to be awarded damages for negligent exposure to asbestos which had led to the presence of pleural plaques. However, in January 2006 the Court of Appeal held in the case of Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co Ltd (and conjoined cases) that pleural plaques were not compensatable. In a unanimous decision on 17 October 2007 the House of Lords upheld that decision.

3. Compensation is already available for a range of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, pneumoconiosis and asbestos related lung cancer, and the House of Lords judgment confirms that if the claimants did develop any recognised asbestos related disease in future they would then have a claim in respect of that disease. However, following the Law Lords’ decision compensation is no longer available for pleural plaques.

4. Evidence from the reviews from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council and the Chief Medical Officer has demonstrated that:

  1. Although a diagnosis of pleural plaques confirms that a person has been exposed to asbestos, pleural plaques do not in themselves produce any significant physiological change or loss of lung function, and only very rarely give rise to physical symptoms.

  2. They do not become malignant or lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

  3. 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.

The full reports are available on the Parliament website.

6. The government already provides the following help to all sufferers of mesothelioma:

  1. You may be entitled to a lump sum payment from the government under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979.

  2. If you develop mesothelioma through coming into contact with asbestos as a result of paid employment, you may be entitled to Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.

  3. If you were exposed to asbestos while you were serving in the armed forces rather than in other employment, you can make a claim for a war disablement pension from the Veterans Agency.

  4. If you need help with personal care or have difficulty getting around because of your illness, you may be entitled to claim Disability Living Allowance if you are under the age of 65 when you claim.

  5. If you are over 65 and need help with personal care because of your illness, you can claim Attendance Allowance.

  6. If someone is in receipt of Attendance Allowance or certain rates of Disability Living Allowance and has someone helping to look after them for 35 hours or more a week, then that person may be entitled to claim Carer’s Allowance.

  7. If your mesothelioma is likely to have been caused by you being exposed to asbestos at work, you may be able to claim compensation from your employer by suing them for negligence.

7. For further information on what financial help there is for those with mesothelioma, see Help and advice for people with mesothelioma [PDF 356kb, 8 pages], published on the Department for Work and Pensions website. If you have any queries on this please call the Department for Work and Pensions press office on: 0203 267 5113.

9. For further information, please call the Ministry of Justice Press Office on 020 3334 3536.

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