Insurers fear what decision could mean for UK

The Scottish Parliament has passed a controversial bill making pleural plaques, a symptomless condition caused by exposure to asbestos, compensable.

After passing the third stage yesterday (Wednesday), the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Bill (SP Bill 12) still needs royal assent – but this is usually considered a formality.

The UK insurance industry has reacted angrily to the bill, which overturns a Law Lords ruling in 2007 that pleural plaques are not compensated under the law of damages.

“This bill is fundamentally flawed,” Nick Starling, the ABI’s director of general insurance and health, said. “It ignores clear medical opinion that plaques are symptomless, and do not cause other asbestos-related conditions. And the full cost implications of this measure, which will be paid for by all Scottish taxpayers and firms, have been ignored. The Scottish government has already admitted that its initial cost estimates were too low.

“This vote could have profound and unintended consequences beyond pleural plaques. It ignores the fundamental legal principle that compensation is paid only where there are physical symptoms, and could open the floodgates for claims from people exposed to a risk, but showing no symptoms.”

Insurers fear the bill might have implications for England and Wales. AXA, Norwich Union, Zurich and RSA have already threatened the Scottish government with legal action over the bill but must wait until it receives royal assent. They’re also thinking about taking on the UK government if it follows Scotland’s decision.

The UK government is more than three months overdue in announcing whether it will reinstate compensation for pleural plaques.