It is of growing concern that more cases of pleural thickening were diagnosed in 2010 than at any other time in the previous 20 years and the number of individuals who struggle to live with the debilitating asbestosis disease increases. An average of 340 new pleural thickening cases were reported each year in the last decade, according to the Health and Safety Executive and just over 820 cases were diagnosed in 2011 alone.

Despite being a non-malignant disease, thickening of the inner surface of the lung linings (pleura), which often extends over a large area of outer lining, is actually caused by lower doses of exposure to asbestos when the invisible fibre dust particles are inhaled.

Up until the 1970s and 80s, disregard or lack of asbestos awareness to the fatal health risks of breathing in asbestos dust meant little or no protective equipment was available, which led to thousands of exposed workers eventually succumbing to fatal incurable mesothelioma cancer or asbestosis diseases between 15 to 50 years or more later.

Due to the long gestation period which elapses before the first asbestosis symptoms appear, it may not be unexpected to find that between 2007 and 2010, the number of asbestosis claim cases more than doubled from 574 to 1,164, according to recent data released by the Royal Courts of Justice.

Pleural thickening may not be detected

While in many instances, pleural thickening may not be detected by X-ray examination and a high resolution CT scan will be required, the condition reduces the elasticity and ability of the lung to function, producing symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling of tightness across the chest, and can develop into a more serious condition.

It is estimated that for up to a quarter pleural thickening cases the level of disability will increase intermittently in the first ten years after diagnosis but in a majority of cases will not advance any further. While pleural thickening is almost always an indication of exposure to asbestos and is present in patients with asbestos-related diseases it can also be the result of rheumatoid arthritis, surgery or by a previous respiratory infection.

So while it is accepted that asbestosis disease is potentially progressive and an asbestosis claim may be successful if an effect upon a claimant can be medically identified before they are aware of any symptoms, there have been difficulties in succeeding with a claim in some instances.

Condition was “significant”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has previously pronounced that those individuals diagnosed with pleural plaques would only have an increased risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma, as a direct result of their exposure to asbestos rather than because of the plaques themselves. However, in one case it was held that a respiratory disability of between 1 and 3 per cent caused by the condition was “significant” and, therefore, an action could proceed.

Compensation for pleural thickening can be substantial where a disability is found to be more than ten per cent and causing progressive symptoms of breathlessness. In cases where a victim has been exposed to asbestos by more than one employer, each becomes liable to compensate the claimant for the proportion of their overall exposure to asbestos.

In August 2011, The ‘Pleural Plaques Former Claimants Scheme’ was introduced by the MoJ, which allowed one-off payments of £5,000 to those individuals who had already begun but not resolved a legal asbestosis claim for pleural plaques compensation.