Exposure to asbestos leads to different types of asbestos-related disease such as asbestosis, or more aggressive cancers, such as mesothelioma. In addition, further conditions can arise from the inhalation of disturbed asbestos fibres or dust. One example is pleural plaques, found within the pleura of the lung, which are small, localised areas of fibrosis caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.

Whilst both asbestos compensation and mesothelioma compensation are recognised lawful claims which may be awarded for many years of suffering an asbestos-related, incurable and fatal disease, the position regarding pleural plaques has been viewed differently.

On the 2nd August, the Government’s Pleural Plaques Former Claimants Payment Scheme opened for applications. But it was back in October 2007, when the Law Lords upheld a Court of Appeal decision, which stated that the existence of pleural plaques – an asbestos-related condition – did not constitute actionable or compensatable damage under the civil law.

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

However, on the basis of medical evidence received during the course of the review, including reports from the Chief Medical Officer for England and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, they were unable to conclude that the Law Lords’ decision should be overturned at the time.

Their judgement was made on the basis of medical evidence which clearly showed 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.

The statement concluded that if new medical or other significant evidence were to emerge, the government would obviously reassess the situation.

However, in recognition of the unique circumstances of those who had already begun, but not resolved, a legal claim for compensation before the Law Lords ruling, the Government had decided to make one-off payments of £5,000 to people in that category.

The scheme will apply in England and Wales and it should be carefully noted that applications must be received by 1 August 2011 to be eligible.

All those who consider they or their spouse are eligible, it is recommended that further advice be taken from an experienced asbestosis lawyer.