Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 15:06 UK

Asbestos damages plans 'flawed'

Asbestos fibres
Some former Scots industry workers live with asbestos-related conditions

Scottish Government plans to help compensate people suffering from past exposure to asbestos have been heavily criticised at Holyrood.

New laws would overturn a House of Lords ruling which said damages could not be claimed for pleural plaques, a benign scarring of the lungs.

But insurance companies and health and legal experts claimed the move was flawed and an expensive mistake.

They gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's justice committee.

Scottish ministers brought their plans forward to help the many Scots, who historically worked in industries such as ship building, having to live with exposure to asbestos.

The Bill represents a worrying trend of modern government to interfere in decisions of the courts
Dr Martin Hogg
Asbestos-related injuries expert
They said pleural plaques was an indicator that victims could develop more serious illnesses, such as cancer, and the proposals have been strongly backed by campaigners.

If the Holyrood government's plans are passed by MSPs, last year's House of Lords judgement, which stated sufferers could no longer use the condition as a basis for a damages claim against the negligence of an employer, would still apply in England and Wales.

But the Association of British Insurers told the justice committee, which is scrutinising the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Bill, it would send out the wrong message about pleural plaques.

The organisation's Nick Starling told MSPs: "Pleural plaques are benign. They do not have any symptoms associated with them, except in the most exceptional of cases.

"They do not develop into more serious conditions, they are inert biologically."

Fatal diseases

Professor Anthony Seaton, who has cared for patients with asbestos-related conditions, claimed doctors were failing to inform plaques sufferers of the benign nature of their condition, which was being confused with fatal diseases, such as mesothelioma.

Asbestos-related injuries expert Martin Hogg said the bill would allow the "worried well" to claim for damages, while judges would be forced to pluck compensation figures from thin air, running the risk of bringing the courts into disrepute.

In his submission to MSPs, Dr Hogg argued it was impossible to classify a symptomless condition, such as pleural plaques, as an injury.

"The bill represents, in my opinion, a worrying trend of modern government to interfere in decisions of the courts made according to orthodox principles and reasoning which have served the law well for many generations," he stated.

Despite opposition, the bill - which also covers pleural thickening and asbestosis - is likely to be passed with Labour Party backing.



SEE ALSO
Lords asbestos decision reversed
24 Jun 08 |  Scotland
SNP to reverse asbestos decision
29 Nov 07 |  Scotland

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