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Insurers win pleural plaques appeal

The UK Court of Appeal has this morning (26 January) overturned a ruling that insurers should pay out on claims filed by people suffering from pleural plaques, a condition it had been suggested could lead to serious asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Insurers Zurich and Norwich Union, along with the Department of Trade and Industry, had originally brought a test case to the courts in 2004, to establish whether or not pleural plaques – a scarring of lungs associated with asbestos exposure – should be compensatable.

In a decision last February, the High Court ruled that anxiety over developing more serious asbestos-related conditions following the discovery of pleural plaques was a valid basis to compensate a claim.

The insurers, which faced the prospect of up to £1bn of claims following the original ruling, brought the appeal after reviewing the judgment, as they continued to argue that medical advances have demonstrated that pleural plaques are not a disease, cause no symptoms, and do not develop into other conditions.

At appeal, judges upheld the insurers’ argument, stating that the presence of pleural plaques does not mean a claimant is suffering from a disease. As such, a justifiable claim could not be made.

Responding to the decision, Zurich UK General Insurance technical claims manager Steve Thomas said today’s judgment “draws a clear line under the issue of whether pleural plaques should be compensatable”.

“The insurance industry exists to compensate people who’ve suffered an injury and not to pay out policyholders’ money for a condition that causes no symptoms and that cannot develop into any other condition such as lung cancer or mesothelioma. The Court’s decision upholds this philosophy,” he continued.

He added that the courts have sent claims farmers a clear message.

“By encouraging those exposed to asbestos to have scans to see whether they have pleural plaques for the purpose of bringing a claim, they are fueling the compensation culture and causing people stress and worry where there was none,” he concluded.

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