Legal challenge to Scottish bill that would make pleural plaques compensable.

A group of insurers is preparing to mount a legal challenge against the Scottish government to prevent it introducing legislation making pleural plaques compensable.

The insurers, which include AXA, Zurich and Norwich Union, have instructed lawyers to look at ways to prevent proposed legislation being made law. RSA is also believed to be involved.

The Scottish government has introduced draft legislation that would enable people with pleural plaques, a symptomless condition caused by exposure to asbestos, to claim damages. The condition results in benign scarring on the lungs.

The Scottish bill, which was introduced in June, would overturn a Law Lords ruling last year which decided that pleural plaques could not be compensated under the law of damages.

Claimant lawyers say the House of Lords ruling saved the insurance industry £1.4bn.

David Williams, managing director of claims at AXA Insurance, said: “We are currently investigating possible options and cost. While it’s absolutely right to push back as much as we can, suing the Scottish parliament does not sound like a cheap thing to do.”

Dominic Clayden, Norwich Union’s head of claims, said: “As a company, in conjunction with others, we will study the legality of any bill it brings in and if, on final analysis from our lawyers, we believe we can mount a legal challenge, we will.”

The Scottish government argues that plaques should be treated as an injury and that they signify a greater risk of developing mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer almost always caused by exposure to asbestos.

The insurance industry is fighting hard to prevent the bill becoming law. It argues that compensating plaques sufferers flies in the face of medical opinion. There are also concerns about how the legislation would be interpreted. Insurers favour a public education campaign to allay the concerns of sufferers.

Consultation on the bill ended early this month.

The UK government is also consulting on proposals to compensate those with pleural plaques, although it is not keen on following Scotland and simply overturning the Lords’ ruling.

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish minister for community safety, said: “I wrote to Nick Starling [ABI director of general insurance and health] to underscore our door’s open.

“If he wants to discuss the detail or the fine print of the law and thinks there are any flaws with it, if he thinks it could constitute any dangers or if he has more information that he hasn’t shared with us up until now, for reasons of commercial confidentiality for example, then we’re happy to listen.”

Williams said: “The Scottish government’s decision to make pleural plaques compensable is lunacy. I don’t think they’ve thought it through. We need to be making the position very, very clear. It will be a damn sight easier to maintain the right position south of the border if we stop the Scottish parliament from implementing what they are talking about.”