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Scottish Court Upholds Law on Asbestos-Related Conditions

06 September 2011

Insurance companies have failed in their attempt to overturn a law in Scotland that allows those diagnosed with pleural plaques and other benign asbestos-related conditions to bring claims for compensation.

Pleural plaques are a form of scarring of the lungs caused by penetration by asbestos fibres. They do not themselves cause any physical symptoms and, in a landmark decision in 2007, the House of Lords ruled that compensation was not payable to people who have developed the condition as a result of exposure to asbestos at work.

However, the decision caused considerable disquiet since the development of pleural plaques can be a precursor to the development of a more serious asbestos-related disease. The condition can therefore cause considerable anxiety to anyone diagnosed with it.

The Scottish Government regarded the decision as amounting to a social injustice and introduced the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009 to correct the position.  

The insurance companies argued that the law interfered with their right, conferred by the European Convention on Human Rights, to peaceful enjoyment of possessions – i.e. the companies’ capital resources.

Whilst agreeing that the insurers’ rights were interfered with, the Court of Session found that the interference was justified overall and there were no grounds for the Court to intervene. The legislators’ decision to place financial responsibility on the insurance companies for cases involving people with asbestos-related pleural plaques was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim in the interests of society.

The situation remains, therefore, that people in Scotland who have developed pleural plaques as a result of exposure to asbestos can seek compensation where appropriate, whereas those in the rest of the UK cannot.

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