Scottish shipyard workers, some of whom are at risk for mesothelioma because they have already been diagnosed with asbestos-related pleural plaques, are applauding a recent decision by a high court judge to throw out a previous Parliamentary law.
The House of Lords had ruled that those who suffered from pleural plaques, which is a disease in which asbestos exposure causes scarring to the lung tissue, were not entitled to compensation. The Lords had claimed that there was no physical harm caused by the plaques, which flies in the face of both medical research and many sufferers’ individual experience.
This judgment came as the result of lobbying and legal action on the part of insurance firms, which saw a dramatic increase in the payouts they were making to pleural plaque victims.
Now, the new ruling has paved the way for victims of asbestos poisoning to once again seek damages, and to be entitled to compensation from insurers. In a judgment issued at the Court of Session, Judge Lord Emslie said, “Diagnosis of pleural plaques confirms significant asbestos exposure, of which they may or may not have been aware. It underlines the much higher risk which they now face of lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.”
Pleural plaques, although they do not lead directly to mesothelioma, may be an early indicator of it. Both diseases are caused by asbestos exposure, especially exposure which is prolonged or ongoing. Such occupations as joiners, plumbers, electricians, shipyard workers, construction workers and millworkers are at a higher-than-average risk to contract these diseases, due to the prevalence of asbestos on the sites where they work. When the asbestos fibers are breathed in over a period of time, they can build up within the respiratory system, embedding themselves into the soft tissues surrounding the lungs. Often the diseases they cause do not manifest themselves until years later, by which time treatment for these diseases is not feasible.
Almost 1000 legal cases involving pleural plaque sufferers have been in limbo, awaiting a decision by the Scottish courts in this matter.