A recent Government ruling on a long awaited mesothelioma-related claim change for sufferers of pleural plaques has once more highlighted the hurdles faced in securing asbestos compensation.
Pleural plaques are dense bands of scar tissue seen on both sides of the lungs, which may increase the risk of developing lung cancer. They are different from pleural thickening, where the scarring caused by asbestos can be described on one side the lungs, or both sides (bilateral) or it can be described as widespread (diffuse).
After more than a year’s wait, the Government announced in February that it will not overturn the October 2007 House of Lords ruling that ‘pleural plaques does not constitute actionable and compensationable damage’.
It was only in January that Scottish shipyard workers had 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 the previous year, which had not overturned the ruling.
However, the February statement, made by 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.”
However, the Ministry Of Justice also announced plans to create an Employers’ Liability Tracing Bureau, which is hoped will reduce the length of time taken to process a serious abestosis claim.
There has long been a common problem of inability to track down the Defendant’s company and their insurer, or they have dissolved without means. This often results in Claimants being unable to pursue the claim when most needed, or difficulties experienced as a result of a difference in the value of a mesothelioma claim which is settled before or after death has occurred.
In addition, as of April, the Government is to increase the upfront payments currently made to mesothelioma sufferers and their dependants.
Meanwhile, it may be seen as small comfort to those diagnosed with pleural plaques, who constantly live in fear that they are at increased risk of developing asbestos-related disease, because the presence of the plaques themselves are a physical sign that an internal organ has been injured by asbestos fibres.