One of the big points of contention in recent years in cases involving exposure to asbestos is the status of a person with 'pleural plaques'. Whilst the exposure that caused the plaques places someone at higher risk of developing a more serious asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma, the plaques themselves do not necessarily mean a more serious disease will follow, and in almost all cases do not lead to symptoms of ill health. Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer of the lining of the lungs that is caused by breathing in asbestos dust.
A decade ago, the House of Lords (whose role in jurisprudence has now been replaced by the Supreme Court) decided that the existence of pleural plaques does not give rise to a right to damages, even where they are the result of negligent exposure to asbestos, because there was no harm caused to which an action under the law of tort would apply.
It has therefore been a rule of thumb that pleural plaques are not a ground for action being taken, but a recent unreported case in Scotland, in which the plaques were accompanied by symptoms, has opened the door to such claims.
The claimant had been negligently exposed to asbestos during his employment. He developed pleural plaques and also suffered with significant breathing difficulties. He later died, and medical expert evidence was given that the plaques, which were widespread in his lungs, were the cause of his symptoms.