Damages Act Challenged by Insurers


Edinburgh—Under the Damages Act, which was passed in March in Scotland, Scots with pleural plaques can claim compensation from their employers, even though this is prevented in the rest of the United Kingdom after a House of Lords ruling.

Now, insurers are slated to seek a review of this legislation in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Pleural plaques, although they are a symptom of asbestos exposure, differ from other asbestos-exposure related diseases in that they do not cause pain and show few if any symptoms. Therefore, opponents of the Damages Act claim, they should not merit compensation.

Insurers also argue that British and Scottish politicians have underestimated the potential cost of these pleural-plaque compensation claims, which they say will take a greater toll than estimated on both the public and private sectors.

Hundreds of Scots, particularly in the population of former Clydeside shipyard workers, have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Asbestos has traditionally been used in shipbuilding, as well as in the automotive and building construction industries, because it exhibits great tensile strength and flexibility, as well as being lightweight and resistant to fire, heat and corrosion. It was often used for insulation, but has been phased out in recent years due to its carcinogenic properties. When damaged (as it is during installation or renovation), the asbestos-containing material releases millions of microscopic fibers into the air, where they can be inhaled. Once inhaled these fibers become lodged in the soft tissues of the body.

Mesothelioma is particularly devastating because it does not show symptoms for up to decades after the initial exposure to asbestos. By the time it is finally diagnosed, there is little that can be done to treat it. Most mesothelioma sufferers die within months of diagnosis.

At issue in the British Isles is whether or not pleural plaques cause damage, which in turn would affect whether or not they are covered under the Damages Act. Some insurers state the the plaques are simply a symptom of exposure, unlike pleural disease or mesothelioma, and therefore are not subject to compensation claims.

Plaques do, however, indicate an increase in the risk of developing mesothelioma, and for that reason supporters of the Damages Act, including the Scottish government itself, feel it is necessary to defend the current requirements and allowances.


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