Page last updated at 18:01 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Asbestos compensation law passed


Former shipyard worker Ewing Taylor talks about his experience of asbestos

Legislation to allow people in Scotland to claim for past exposure to asbestos has been passed by MSPs.

The new law overturns a House of Lords ruling which said damages could not be claimed for pleural plaques, a benign scarring of the lungs.

Insurers and some health experts said the move was an expensive mistake.

Diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer have been diagnosed in hundreds of Scots - many of them former Clydeside shipyard workers.

The Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Bill was passed by 98 votes to 16.

The Lords judgement - which stated sufferers could no longer use pleural plaques as a basis for a damages claim against the negligence of an employer - will still apply in England and Wales.

Pleural plaques - small areas of benign scarring on the lungs - are an indicator of exposure to asbestos and Law Lords had ruled it should not be open to compensation claims because it was not a disease and had no symptoms.

This decision by the House of Lords has caused a great amount of anger and dismay
Stuart McMillan

Although pleural plaques do not cause or develop into a more serious asbestos-related condition, they do signify an increased risk of developing mesothelioma because of exposure to asbestos.

The bill has won cross-party support at Holyrood, although the parliament's justice committee earlier warned the Scottish Government may have to pay out millions following claims from employees who worked in former naval shipyards.

SNP West of Scotland MSP Stuart McMillan, whose family members have worked in the shipyards, said: "This decision by the House of Lords has caused a great amount of anger and dismay in the west of Scotland communities where people have been affected by this condition for doing nothing more than earning an honest wage."

The Association of British Insurers claimed passing the bill would send out the wrong message about the seriousness of pleural plaques.

Professor Anthony Seaton, who has cared for patients with asbestos-related conditions, previously told MSPs the legislation would allow the "worried well" to claim for damages.

He also claimed doctors were failing to inform plaques sufferers of the benign nature of their condition, which was being confused with fatal diseases.

The Scottish Government has said the Ministry of Defence had historically accepted liability in such cases and expected that to continue.

The bill also covers pleural thickening and asbestosis.

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