U.K. Court Reverses Asbestos Decision

February 1, 2006

The U.K.’s Court of Appeal has reversed a previous ruling that granted for compensation to people with pleural plaques, a condition resulting from exposure to asbestos that scars the lining of the chest.

A report on the Lloyd’s Website (www.loyds.com) notes: “Insurance companies had appealed against a judgement that this condition often resulted in a more serious illness. However the Court ruled that as pleural plaques are symptom-less, have no adverse effect on any bodily function and have no effect on appearance, sufferers should not be able to claim compensation.”

The decision, which was welcomed by the insurance industry, overturned a previous ruling by the High Court on Feb. 15, 2005, that could have cost the industry up to £1 billion ($ 1.78 billion) in claims. The ruling reversed by the Appeals Court had determined that the presence of pleural plaques meant an increased risk of developing other asbestos-related diseases and caused anxiety.

Although the insurance industry welcomed the outcome, Lloyd’s noted that lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case, not unsurprisingly, had the opposite reaction. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers issued a statement indicating: “We are bitterly disappointed that the Court of Appeal considers pleural plaques to be trivial, when in actual fact it can blight people’s lives for decades. While costs are obviously important, justice and fairness for those harmed by another’s negligence should be paramount.”

The Court of Appeal, however, did give permission for an appeal to the House of Lords. Lloyd’s quoted Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips: “There are difficult issues of principle and this will affect a very large number of claims and in these circumstances we have concluded that we should take the rare course of giving permission to appeal to the House of Lords on the issue of liability.”

Norwich Union’s technical claims director Dominic Clayden, representing the insurers stated: “The issue of compensating claimants with serious asbestos-related conditions or who suffer impairment as a result of exposure to asbestos has never been in question and they will continue to receive compensation.”

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