Sufferers of an asbestos-related condition, pleural plaques, are to be denied the right to claim compensation, even when the condition has been caused by negligence, following a landmark decision in the House of Lords.
The judgment reverses the long-standing practice of paying compensation in pleural plaque cases. It is estimated that the decision will save insurance companies as much as £1.5bn in claims from those diagnosed with the condition.
Pleural plaques are areas of scarring to the lining of the lungs and are usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Although the scarring is benign in itself, those diagnosed with the condition fear that they could also be at risk of developing other asbestos-related illnesses, such as asbestosis or mesothelioma.
The House of Lords was reviewing the decision in a test case considered by the Court of Appeal early last year. The claims were brought by four victims and centred on whether the plaques can be viewed in themselves as an injury for which damages can be claimed and whether the fear of possibly contracting a full-blown asbestos-related disease amounted to damage.
The Law Lords ruled that development of the plaques was insufficient basis for a claim. The condition is now technically considered to be 'not an illness' as it produces no symptoms. In addition, in the Lords’ view neither the risk of future illness nor the anxiety associated with pleural plaques was sufficient to support a cause of action.