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Pleural plaques held to be actionable injuries

18 February 2005

Compensation should be paid to workers who develop scarring of the lungs from asbestos exposure, the High Court ruled this week.
In the case of Grieves v Everard & Sons & British Uralite plc [2005] EWHC 88 (QB), 10 former ship workers who had developed pleural plaques through asbestos exposure were claiming damages for the anxiety caused by the condition that can lead to serious disease. The defendants, British shipbuilders and insurers, tried to block the awards, routinely given by county courts for the 20 years, arguing that the plaques were merely markers of exposure to asbestos and were “medically irrelevant”. They also challenged the claimants’ entitlement to damages on the basis that it could result in an enormous cost to the insurance industry and to the public funds of British Shipbuilders.
Sitting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne High Court, Mr Justice Holland held that pleural plaques amounted to an actionable injury, stating: “I take it to be beyond dispute that a continuing anxiety engendered by a tortiously inflicted external scar can contribute to the compensatable injury and I see no logical difference between that situation and such that arises in the instant situation.”
Ian McFall, national head of asbestos litigation for Thompsons Solicitors, which represented the claimants, said: “This judgment is a victory for our clients and everyone else who has a similar claim. The High Court has reaffirmed the right to compensation for pleural plaques. It has held that our clients have suffered injury and that the negligent employers and their insurers must pay damages. This is good law which puts profits before people.”
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) also supported the findings. “This was nothing more than a shameless and greedy attempt by insurers to save yet more money at the expense of injured people,” APIL president Colin Ettinger said. “At least sufferers now have the peace of mind of knowing they can claim compensation for years of living in fear because they are worried about what the future holds for them – living day in, day out wondering if they will go on to develop a lung disease which could kill them.”
The defendants have been granted leave to appeal.

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