Readers may well have heard a lot in the news and press recently about Pleural Plaques. Poole Alcock should like to take this opportunity to provide readers with information that they may find helpful if they are worried about Pleural Plaques but firstly update readers on the latest announcement made by the government on 25 February 2010:-
Payments of £5,000 will be paid to persons who had begun – but not resolved – a claim for compensation at the time the law was changed by the House of Lords on 17 October 2007.
The government decided upon the figure of £5,000 based on an estimate of the likely compensation that would have been payable had plaques remained compensatable.
Pleural Plaques are areas of scarring or fibrous thickening of the membrane (pleura) that surrounds the lungs. They signal the presence in the lungs or pleura of asbestos fibres. These asbestos fibres are most commonly present as a result of a person coming into contact with asbestos during the course of their employment. Statistically the most common occupations that gave such exposure were plumbing and heating, and construction. However, there are increasingly other occupations which have caused asbestos disease including telephone engineers and joiners. This list is not exhaustive.
From 1984 to 2007 a person could make a claim for compensation against their former employer if that employer exposed them to asbestos and they later went on to develop a related illness. This position was changed by the House of Lords in October 2007. It was decided that pleural plaques should no longer receive compensation based on the following conclusions:-
- Save in exceptional cases the plaques cause no symptoms;
- They do not cause further asbestos related illnesses;
- Proof of ‘damage’ is an essential element in a claim for negligence against an employer and symptomless plaques are not considered compensatable damage.
Although it is widely thought among the public that plaques themselves develop into the more serious asbestos related illnesses, including lung cancer and mesothelioma, general medical consensus is of the opinion that this is not the case. It is now widely accepted that pleural plaques are merely evidence of exposure to asbestos and that it is the original exposure – rather than the plaques themselves – that may or may not later cause the additional illness.
The government has been considering this issue for nearly two years. One of their main fears in restoring the old law was of fuelling the ‘compensation culture.’ They worried that if they changed the law to let people claim for symptomless conditions or the fear that they might later develop a serious illness at some time in the future, the courts would be flooded by a wave of weak and spurious claims for such things passive smoking in the workplace potentially leading to lung cancer, or outside work in the construction industry potentially leading to skin cancer. The government also feared for the effects this would have on business and the economy.
Therefore the new position is that if you have pleural plaques but never started a claim – you will not be able to begin one now and will not be entitled to a payment from the new scheme. The government will be announcing further details on how the payment scheme will work in the next few weeks.
Readers may find it peculiar that the position in Scotland is different. Following the House of Lords’ decision the Scottish government almost immediately announced that it would legislate to overturn the ruling and restore the previous position. This law has been enacted but not yet brought into effect – it is currently being appealed by the insurance industry.
A Bill is currently making its way through our Parliament which seeks to align the English and Welsh law with that of the new law in Scotland, i.e. that you can claim. This has been brought by an individual MP rather than the government. Unfortunately, this Bill has a long way to go before being made law and unfortunately it will be extremely unlikely to be passed before Parliament is dissolved for the General Election.
In the meantime all other asbestos related illnesses – diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer caused by asbestos and mesothelioma – remain compensatable. You are still entitled to claim if you suffer from one of these illnesses if caused by your negligent exposure to asbestos.
Another point to bear in mind is that you only have three years to bring a claim following your date of knowledge of injury which is normally considered to be the date you become aware of the illness and its possible cause.
If you fail to commence court proceedings within those three years you will be prevented from doing so. You must not leave any claim too late. Although a court does have discretion to allow court proceedings to be commenced and to continue after the 3 year period this can not and must not be relied upon.
A number of other proposals have also been announced by Justice Secretary Jack Straw. The proposals include:
The establishment of a working group to speed up mesothelioma claims in the civil justice system.
The establishment of a Insurer of Last Resort to compensate those unable to trace the insurer who is liable for compensation and the setting up of an improved tracing system for such policies.
An increase in the statutory payments made by the Pneumoconiosis Etc. (Worker's Compensation) Act 1979 and the Mesothelioma Act 2008 to better reflect compensation made in the civil courts.
The allocation of £3million pounds towards a national Cancer Research Institute to make the UK a leader in the field of asbestos related disease research.
Finally, we would add that not everyone who has pleural plaques goes on to develop the more serious conditions. Furthermore, many people who worked with asbestos do not go on to develop any illness at all.
If you have believe you may have an asbestos related disease then please do not hesitate to contact Poole Alcock on 01270 502880 as soon as possible for a free, no obligation consultation. We have a specialist team that deals with claims of this nature – as well as other workplace illnesses or accidents – and we work on a “No Win, No Fee” basis.