Judges rule 1,200 former shipyard and construction workers have right to claim. Court backs Scottish Parliament’s right to legislate on industrial injury.
The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by insurance companies which would have scrapped the right of people in Scotland to claim damages for the asbestos-related condition, pleural plaques.
Lord Hope dismissed the appeal by insurers, who had claimed that the Scottish Parliament had acted “irrationally” by allowing workers to lodge injury compensation claims if they have been diagnosed with the condition.
The decision was welcomed by UCATT, whose acting general secretary George Guy said: “This is excellent news as it shows that despite their huge financial resources the insurance industry do not have a free hand in the courts. It also underlines just how outrageous their actions have been as for over two years they have deliberately blocked pleural plaques victims in Scotland from receiving compensation.”
Pleural plaques are not themselves fatal, but are regarded as precursors for more serious illnesses, such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.
The insurers had previously failed to overturn the compensation law at Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session.
Many of the people who have developed pleural plaques have previously worked in heavy industries, such as construction and shipbuilding. Hundreds of former shipyard workers are in line to benefit from the ruling.
Delivering the court’s judgement, Lord Hope said that in issues of social policy such as this, “the court should respect the judgement of the elected body as to what is in the public interest.” The Scottish Parliament passed the Damages Act in 2009. The cost of compensation claims has been put at between £7m and £9m.
The Association of British Insurers maintains the Damages Act is flawed. But Ian McFall, head of Asbestos Policy at Thompsons Solicitors’, said: “This decision recognises the democratic right of The Scottish Parliament to legislate for the benefit of its citizens.
“In Scotland the rights of people with pleural plaques are more important than the commercial interests of insurers, which is how it ought to be. The Northern Ireland Assembly has approved a Bill in similar terms to Scotland.
“Meanwhile nothing has changed for pleural plaques sufferers in England & Wales. The failure of the Westminster government to act leaves it isolated. Only the discredited arguments of insurers and politicians could attempt to justify why people in Scotland and Northern Ireland whose lungs have been damaged by asbestos are entitled to compensation while those suffering from the same condition in England & Wales are left without a remedy.”
George Guy added: “This needs to be the first step in winning justice for all asbestos victims regardless of where they live. Every year thousands of people discover that their health has been damaged by asbestos and many sadly die. These deaths and injuries were entirely preventable; companies knew that asbestos was lethal. Everyone whose health has been damaged by asbestos must receive compensation.”
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