There has been a landmark ruling in Scotland concerning the amount of compensation that is paid to people who have been diagnosed with pleural plaques.
Pleural plaques are areas of scar tissue on the pleura, the thin membrane covering the lungs. Plaques are the most common type of benign, asbestos related pleural disease and for most people, do not cause any symptoms. Pleural plaques are evidence of exposure to asbestos and although rare, people who have pleural plaques can go on to develop a more serious asbestos related condition such as mesothelioma or pleural thickening.
Up until October 2007, compensation could be claimed in the UK for pleural plaques, until the House of Lords made a ruling, resulting in those diagnosed with plaques, no longer being eligible for asbestos compensation.
The ruling has stuck in England and Wales where, unless it can be shown that a person suffers with a lung restriction due to pleural plaques, compensation cannot be claimed.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland however, the ruling was reversed and therefore, anyone exposed to asbestos in these countries who has pleural plaques, can potentially claim asbestos compensation
Usually, to value a pleural plaques claim in Scotland a standard framework agreement has been used, meaning the level of pleural plaques compensation that could be claimed was limited. The average claim value was in the region of £4,000. However, Scottish solicitors, Digby Brown, challenged the valuation of pleural plaques claims in 2014 and their client was recently awarded £8,500. This is more than twice the amount normally awarded for this condition.
Their legal team successfully argued that the set framework agreement for valuing the claims did not take into account the impact of such a diagnosis on an individual’s mental health. Whilst for the majority of people pleural plaques are asymptomatic, they can take their toll on a person’s mental health, causing much anxiety.
It is for this reason that many campaigners hoped the decision to refuse compensation for pleural plaques sufferers in England and Wales would also be reversed. To date, this has not happened and there do not appear to be any plans for the decision to be overturned by the Government who at the time of their last review, agreed with the court’s decision to refuse asbestos compensation to those diagnosed with pleural plaques. Asbestos Justice feel that this was a policy decision, made to stem what insurers would call “an opening of the floodgates” for pleural plaques claims.
Despite the controversial decisions made, in some circumstances, compensation can be claimed for pleural plaques in England and Wales. Although for most people pleural plaques do not cause physical symptoms, experts have found that in some cases they can cause impairment of lung function. In these cases it is possible to claim a degree of asbestos compensation.
In June 2009, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council published a report on pleural plaques called ‘Position Paper 23’. The report was written by 15 distinguished authors and considers whether pleural plaques cause disability. The report recognised that pleural plaques can cause distress and anxiety but did not recommend that they become a ‘prescribed’ disease, for which Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) would be payable. However, later in the report it states that “in civil proceedings different considerations may apply”.
A study is referred to in the report, conducted by Schwartz et al (1990). They compared the lung function of workers with pleural plaques and workers without the condition. The results showed small losses in lung function in those who had been diagnosed with pleural plaques. Further studies by Kouris et al (1991) and Jarvholm et al (1986) are used to show that pleural plaques are associated with “slightly impaired lung function”.
The report goes on to cite further studies such as Barbour et al (1990) where “plaques were associated with an increased risk of shortness of breath with ‘major activities’”. Similarly, Jarvholm et al found that it was common for men with pleural plaques to have to “stop to recover their breath when walking on flat ground at their own speed”. There may be issues with pleural plaques that are not visible on x-rays or scans; “It has been suggested that where symptoms do arise these may reflect involvement of the underlying lung tissue and minor degrees of lung fibrosis which go undetected on chest radiographs or scans”.
Here at Asbestos Justice, we specialise in asbestos disease claims and we have successfully pursued claims for people who have been exposed to asbestos in England and Wales and now have pleural plaques. By obtaining a report from an expert asbestos physician, we can show that in some cases, pleural plaques have caused lung impairment in the form of a restrictive defect on their lung function, resulting in successful recovery of asbestos compensation our clients truly deserve.
It is not vital to ensure recovery of immediate compensation for pleural plaques, by settling claims on a provisional basis, we leave the door open for our clients to return and claim further asbestos compensation, should someone be unfortunate enough to go on to develop a more serious asbestos related condition such as mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer, asbestosis or pleural thickening. Thankfully, these more serious asbestos diseases are rare and the majority of people diagnosed with pleural plaques do not go on to develop a more troubling complaint.
If you require assistance in pursuing an asbestos claim please contact us today on our freephone number 0800 038 6767. Alternatively, head over to the ‘Contact Us’ page, complete the form and we will be in touch.