02 March, 2010
Following a long running consultation, Jack Straw announced last week that the government will not attempt to reverse the Law Lords ruling made in October 2007. In the case of Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co Ltd, the Law Lords determined that the existence of pleural plaques does not constitute actionable or compensatable damage. Prior to this case, individuals had been able to bring claims for compensation. Nor does the government see any merit in introducing a no fault scheme for pleural plaques "sufferers".
Jack Straw has confirmed that they are unable to conclude that the Law Lord's decision should be overturned or that an open ended no fault compensation scheme should be set up. On the basis of medical evidence received, he remarked that it is clear that while pleural plaques are a marker of exposure to asbestos, any increased risk of a person with pleural plaques developing an asbestos related disease arises out of that person's exposure to asbestos rather than because of the plaques themselves.
Those persons who had already begun, but not resolved, a legal claim for compensation at the time of the Law Lord's ruling in October 2007 will receive a payment of £5,000 under a government extra statutory scheme. Details of the scheme are to be announced shortly.
In addition, the government intends to establish a working group to examine litigation practices and procedures for compensation claims relating to mesothelioma. The government also intends to consider changes to the law to clarify the limitation period to bring a mesothelioma claim, and to resolve differences in claims settled before or after death.
This has been a long awaited announcement from Jack Straw and, in the case of pleural plaques, provides clarity, for now, to what has been a period of uncertainty, in view of the Scottish parliament reversing the impact of Rothwell fairly quickly after the judgment was handed down. Should further medical or other significant evidence become available the Government has pledged to look at the issue again.
It also shows that mesothelioma victims remain high on the priority list for government action.