If you live in England and are diagnosed with pleural plaques legally you do not have an injury. However if you live in Scotland and are diagnosed with pleural plaques legally you are considered to have suffered an injury and can claim compensation.
This bizarre situation came about following a House of Lords ruling in October 2007, the Scottish parliament elected to legislate to reverse the effect of the House of Lords decision, the government in England and Wales preferred to leave matters as they are, no doubt influenced by the vast pressure brought to bear by the insurance industry.
If someone is scratched on the hand during the course of their work due to fault on the part of their employer, for example, a faulty piece of equipment that should have been guarded, they can claim compensation for that injury. The scar may fade and disappear all together, however it is still an actionable injury.
Pleural plaques are irreversible scarring to the inner lining of the lungs. There are visible on x-ray and are known only to be caused by asbestos exposure. Because the scarring cannot be seen (unlike a scratch on the back of the hand) and because there are no other symptoms associated with them, it has been decided by the highest court in the land that they do not constitute an “injury”.
There is no evidence that pleural plaques become malignant, will lead to mesothelioma or any other asbestos related disease. However 80% of people who suffer from pleural plaques have a history of asbestos exposure and the figure is probably nearer to 100% taking into account those who are uncertain about where the exposure took place. Therefore a diagnosis of pleural plaques will often be a cause of anxiety for the victim because it is a physical permanent sign of significant past asbestos exposure.
It is because pleural plaques are such a very strong indicator of past asbestos exposure, that those with pleural plaques are in such a high risk category of going on to develop more serious asbestos disease. Even so the risk factor is typically no greater than a 5% chance, so 95 out of every 100 people with pleural plaques will probably remain disease free, apart from the plaques.
Such statistics are difficult to explain to victims of pleural plaques, many of whom will have known or worked with others who have suffered serious asbestos illness.
It is anticipated that 20 years after exposure to asbestos in the workplace 5% to 15% of people will show signs of uncalcified pleural plaques, after 30 years between a third to one half of patients have calcified pleural plaques.
Pleural plaques appear on the outer lining of the lungs and are smooth white raised areas of tissue. Larger pleural plaques may contain asbestos fibres, especially as the plaques are calcified.
The worry for those suffering with pleural plaques is that they are at an increased risk over and above the general population of going on to develop asbestosis, mesothelioma or other asbestos related disease. The plaques themselves are a reminder of the past asbestos exposure.
The coalition government has recently announced plans to honour the decision of the previous government to make a one off payment to those people suffering from pleural plaques whose claims were not resolved by the date of the House of Lords decision in October 2007. Individuals who satisfy the criteria will be eligible for an award of £5,000 paid by the government.
If you would like more information about the government scheme please visit the Ministry of Justice website. If you would like information about asbestosis or mesothelioma please contact us on 0808 129 3320 or visit http://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/