In the U.S., the stated goal of “tort reform” is to make sure that monetary awards in asbestos lawsuits go only to those who are actually suffering from an asbestos disease. This was apparently the reasoning when Great Britain’s House of Lords passed legislation in the U.K. that would bar those who had been exposed on the job but who hadn’t developed serious illness from filing claims. In past decades, British subjects who suffered from pleural plaques–not in themselves fatal, but possibly harbingers of asbestos illness to come–could collect up to 15,000 GBP (roughly US $30,000) from the government. The House of Lords’ ruling stated that pleural plaques by themselves do not constitute asbestos disease. The Scottish Parliament, which today governs a region that while still technically part of the U.K. is virtually its own nation, overturned that ruling in February.
English asbestos victims now cast their eyes longingly north past Hadrian’s Wall, wondering why their Scottish compatriots can be compensated and they cannot. Pamela Phillpot, a solicitor (a lawyer who advises clients but does not usually appear in court) with a law firm near the southern coastal town of Portsmouth, said, ” It’s ridiculous that if you live in Scotland you can get compensation but in England you can’t…if you have scarring on your body there are no symptoms but you can still be compensated for it, so why not for scarring on your lungs?” Adding that in the end, it will take an act of Parliament to overturn the ruling in England , she hopes that “common sense will prevail.” Phillpot acknowledges that while such damages run 7,000 – 15,000 GBP, it can cost up to six times that amount and several months or even years to process the claims. In the meantime, Diane McLellan and Lynne Squibb, sisters who founded the Hampshire Asbestos Support and Awareness Group after their father died from mesothelioma, are speaking out.
Ms. McLellan made the following statement to the U.K. press: “Compensation has been paid for more than 20 years for the anxiety and fear that a diagnosis of pleural plaques causes… we were extremely disappointed with the ruling and are even more so now that rules are going to be changed in Scotland…we are appealing to as many people as possible to contact their Members of Parliament.”