The presence of pleural plaques indicating exposure to asbestos, has been a legal bone of contention amongst a number of insurance firms in recent years, and which has obstructed sufferers from pursuing a claim for mesothelioma compensation.

However, a breakthrough ruling by the UK Supreme Court will now enable people with pleural plaques residing in Scotland to pursue a claim.

Pleural plaques are fibrous scarring of the lungs. Throughout the UK, but most especially in the heavy industrial centres of the north of England, the Midlands and the shipyards of Scotland and South East England, asbestos was widely used as an insulator and fire retardant in many construction products and engineering components.

Disregard or lack of asbestos awareness to the fatal health risks of breathing in the asbestos fibre dust led to thousands of exposed workers to succumb to asbestosis diseases and the incurable malignant cancer, mesothelioma.

Around a half of all those who are exposed to asbestos will develop pleural plaques, and as with mesothelioma and asbestosis symptoms, they will only appear between 15 to 40 years after initial exposure. Although not harmful in themselves and non-cancerous or tumour forming, pleural plaques are almost always present in patients with asbestos-related disease and often in patients suffering with mesothelioma.

In 2009, the Scottish Government passed the Damages Act, disagreeing with a House of Lords ruling three years earlier, which said individuals with pleural plaques could not make a mesothlioma claim. However, insurance companies have strenuously argued that the Act was “flawed” and “ … broke European Convention on Human Rights provisions on property rights and constitutes unreasonable legal interference”.

The Supreme Court justices in London have now dismissed a further appeal by several insurance companies against an April decision by Court of Session judges in Scotland, who rejected arguments that the legislation was unlawful. The Supreme Court ruled that it could not be said that the “judgment of the Scottish Parliament was without reasonable foundation”.

This means that after two and a half years of delay, those with pleural plaques living in Scotland will now able to proceed with their asbestosis lawyers to claim their entitlement.

The number of asbestosis claim cases has more than doubled from 574 in 2007 to 1,164 in 2010, according to the Royal Courts of Justice and more than 2,000 diagnosed cases of mesothelioma alone recorded each year in the UK.