English and Welsh citizens denied right to claim for compensation while those living in Scotland and Northern Ireland can


Unite has called for an end to the shameful situation of English and Welsh citizens being denied the right to claim compensation for an asbestos related condition, when the citizens of Northern Ireland and Scotland can.

Unite has welcomed the Northern Ireland Executive’s announcement that people suffering from the asbestos-related lung condition pleural plaques will be able to seek compensation from 14 December 2011.

The right to sue for compensation for pleural plaques – a scarring of the lining of the lungs caused by asbestos – was ended on 17 October 2007 when the House of Lords ruled in favour of insurers in a test case. But the ruling has been overturned in Scotland and now Northern Ireland by their devolved governments.

Similar legislation in Scotland was the subject of a long-running challenge initiated by insurers, which went before the UK Supreme Court. On 12 October this year, the Supreme Court rejected the insurers’ claims that the legislation infringed their human rights and was outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

Unite’s director of legal services Howard Beckett said: “It is great news that  our members in Scotland and now Northern Ireland can be compensated for developing the asbestos related condition, pleural plaques. However, workers in England and Wales are left in the cold and have no rights to claim compensation  for being exposed to asbestos due to the negligence of their employers. This segregation must end. It is time the government woke up to the fact that exposure to asbestos is a serious health and safety issue, and only by the fear of litigation can the excesses of irresponsible employers be prevented.”

The decision by the House of Lords in 2007 meant the end to an established right to compensation, which existed for 20 years, for pleural plaques, which are in almost every case caused by workers being exposed to asbestos due to negligence of their employers.

Pleural plaques seldom causes immediate symptoms but are associated with an increased risk of developing fatal conditions like mesothelioma or asbestosis. In the past claimants could receive compensation worth up to £15,000.

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