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Ruling that ended compensation for pleural plaques to remain, MoJ says

2 March 2010

Pleural plaques victims who launched legal claims before October 2007, the date of the House of Lords ruling in the Rothwell case, will receive ex gratia payments of £5,000, justice secretary Jack Straw has announced.

However, he confirmed that the government would not attempt to reverse the ruling, which found that scars on the lining of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos did not constitute an injury for which compensation could be awarded.

The government has regularly delayed announcing a decision on pleural plaques. The prime minister promised in April 2009 that a decision would be announced after Easter, only for Straw to announce a further postponement until after the summer recess (see Solicitors Journal 153/29, 28 July 2009).

A spokesman for the MoJ said that civil servants had studied the medical evidence on pleural plaques since the Rothwell ruling in 2007, including reports from the chief medical officer and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, and were “unable to conclude that the decision should be overturned at this time”.

The spokesman went on: “The medical evidence is clear that while pleural plaques are a marker of exposure to asbestos, they are generally symptomless, are not harmful and do not become harmful.

“Any increased risk of a person with pleural plaques developing an asbestos-related disease arises because of that person’s exposure to asbestos rather than because of the plaques themselves.

“However, if new medical or other significant evidence were to emerge, the government would obviously reassess the situation.”

Ian McFall, head of asbestos policy at Thompsons Solicitors, estimated that around 6,000 people would receive the £5,000 payments announced by the justice secretary.

“On behalf of our clients we are disappointed that the government has decided not to overturn the House of Lords judgment, although we recognise that at least some people with pleural plaques will receive something,” McFall said.

He welcomed the MoJ’s announcement that the insurance industry had agreed to provide £3m of funding for research on asbestos-related diseases.

Straw told the Commons that the government would increase payments made under the Pneumoconiosis (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 by 1.5 per cent and payments to mesothelioma victims under the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 to the same level.

He said the Department for Work and Pensions would amend regulations to increase payments to all dependants under both acts by up to £5,000, so that their awards are closer to those paid to victims. The increases will come into effect on 1 April 2010.

He added that the MoJ had agreed that an employers’ liability tracing office should be set up to help victims of asbestos-related diseases to trace insurers and launched a consultation on setting up an insurance fund of last resort or Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau.

A spokeswoman for APIL said the association was disappointed by the decision not to overturn the Rothwell ruling, but was pleased the government had recognised difficulties experienced by mesothelioma sufferers as a result of differences in the value of claims settled before or after the death of the person concerned.

“It is now imperative that this long-awaited, positive proposal is not buried in the aftermath of the general election,” she said.

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