Graham Gibson fears the long-term repercussions of Scotland’s ruling on pleural plaques compensation

Many members of the insurance industry have voiced their unease regarding the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Bill passed on March 11, which overturned a House of Lords ruling that pleural plaques are asymptomatic and cannot be compensated for.

I join industry colleagues in voicing my concern over the underlying motives and implications of the Scottish Parliament’s decision to change such a fundamental law.

My concern is with the potentially wide-reaching impact that changing such a fundamental principle of law will have for business and individuals beyond pleural plaques. It seems that to pacify a small minority, the Scottish Parliament has positioned its country at a competitive disadvantage and has, in effect, opened the floodgates for a raft of claims for similar conditions.

At Allianz, we don’t have large numbers of plaques claims on our books but, by overruling the legal principle that compensation is only payable on presentation of physical damage, the Scottish Parliament has effectively given the green light for all asymptomatic conditions of this kind to qualify for compensation.

An individual could be unaware for an entire lifetime that he or she has pleural plaques, a benign condition that does not impinge on quality of life. In every walk of life, every day, people are exposed to health risks but this doesn’t and shouldn’t entitle people who have not sustained any injury to claim compensation for exposure. However, this is precisely what the Scottish Government is legislating in favour of.

But to whose advantage? I am sure I’m not alone in thinking that the underlying motivation behind the passing of the Bill is to satisfy political interests, not to help the individual at the heart of each claim.His or her qualification for compensation implies that having pleural plaques is far more serious than it is, potentially creating further confusion and anxiety.

Rather than giving money to those with the condition, wouldn’t they be better served by readily available advice and support?

The passing of the Damages Bill takes a quick-fix view of helping individuals for short-term political gain, while a long-term approach of support and education will leave people better off in more ways than just in their pockets.

In economic terms, the change in legislation will also increase costs for businesses, local authorities and insurers, who will have to pass on these costs. “Forum shopping” will lead to an increase in claims, and disputes are bound to arise over the rights of Scottish non-residents to compensation.

All this will serve to undermine business confidence in the region, making it a less attractive place for investment during already tough trading.

Anyone who knows me will be aware of the pride I take in my Scottish heritage but I fear that, on this occasion, the proposed changes to the law are at best questionable and at worst politically motivated.

Graham Gibson is director of claims for Allianz Insurance