I was shocked to hear of the latest tactic taken by insurance companies in dealing with claims for compensation by mesothelioma sufferers. The insurers argue that a claim is time-barred if a victim was originally diagnosed with pleural plaques, but did not claim damages for that within three years.
This is a massive about-face for the insurance companies, who have spent the past few years arguing that a diagnosis of pleural plaques does not entitle the sufferer to claim damages at all.
Pleural plaques is a scarring of the membranes around the lungs, caused by exposure to asbestos. It generally has no symptoms, but does indicate that asbestos fibres have lodged in the body. A person with pleural plaques therefore has a greater risk of developing cancers such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
For years, victims of pleural plaques were able to make successful claims for compensation – so long as they could show that it was caused by negligent exposure to asbestos. This came to a halt in October 2007, however, when the House of Lords accepted an insurance company argument that pleural plaques was not actually an injury – and no compensation awards could be made for it.
Outraged campaigners, including my friends at Thompsons Solicitors, urged the Scottish Government to take action. Their efforts succeeded and the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act was passed in 2009, giving those with pleural plaques the right to claim compensation.
The insurance companies fought tooth and nail against the Act as well, arguing in court that the Scottish Parliament had not been entitled to pass the Act in the first place. The issue was finally decided in October last year, when the Supreme Court dismissed the challenge.
Seven months later, and the insurers have changed tack completely.
They are no longer arguing that no damages claims can be brought for pleural plaques. Instead, insurers are arguing that if a victim does not take up his damages case for pleural plaques within three years of diagnosis, he no longer has the right to claim for other developments in his condition, such as deadly mesothelioma.
If the argument succeeds in court, victims who have developed further health conditions as a result of negligent exposure to asbestos will be left without a chance of compensation.
According to asbestos charity Clydeside Action on Asbestos, the dramatic u-turn is a slap in the face for victims and their families.
“This callous attack on weak and dying asbestos victims is just the latest in a long list of underhand tactics employed by the insurers, and demonstrates just how heartless the insurance industry truly is,” said Phyllis Craig MBE, Senior Welfare Officer at Clydeside Action on Asbestos.
“The insurers claim to be concerned with getting compensation for asbestos victims as quickly as possible, but these people are dying as the insurance companies try to find new ways to limit their exposure to paying out on asbestos cases,” she warned.