Scots Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is apparently to unveil new legislation at the Scottish Parliament which will allow anyone in Scotland to raise legal actions if they are suffering from asbestos related illnesses.
There are a few situations of lack of legislation on claims which could do with new bills in Parliament, Mr Justice Secretary …
Scotland on Sunday reports :
By Eddie Barnes
JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill is to unveil a new bill at Holyrood which will entitle anyone in Scotland to raise an action if they contracted an asbestos-related condition called pleural plaques, a scarring of the lungs.
But the move is set to trigger a row with insurers this week as it will effectively overturn a ruling preventing workers claiming millions of pounds of compensation for the condition.
The ruling will help hundreds of men – mostly former workers in shipyards – who suffer from diseases such as mesothelioma, a condition which people with pleural plaques are prone to catch.
The Lords ruled last year that former workers with pleural plaques were not entitled to compensation because the condition itself is not a disease.
But MacAskill's decision has infuriated insurers, who claim that, as pleural plaques does not itself cause any harm, there should not be any compensation – levels of which could reach millions of pounds.
Industry sources are also warning that the move could set a precedent for anyone with a condition to claim compensation even if it does not directly cause any harm. They point out that they do already compensate people with pleural plaques who then go on to contract a more serious condition.
However, the move will be met with delight by campaigners for the Clyde shipyard workers, opening up the possibility that they will be able to claim several million pounds in compensation.
Glasgow lawyer Frank Maguire claims to have 600 clients who have contracted the condition who, he says, will all lodge claims for damages. Sufferers could be entitled to around £15,000 each in compensation, a possible total of £9m.
Maguire insists that pleural plaques is just the "calling card" for more serious conditions and that people who have it should therefore be compensated.
A Scottish Government spokesman confirmed that the plans would be unveiled this week. He said: "The Justice Secretary has already made clear the Scottish Government's determination to reverse the House of Lords judgement and ensure that people with pleural plaques can continue to raise an action for damages."
He went on: "It is right that those who suffer the effects of asbestos as a result of our industrial past are able to claim for damages and we will introduce a bill before recess as we promised to right this wrong."
However, an insurance industry source said: "Everyone agrees that people with serious asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma should be compensated as quickly as possible. Insurers do this. But the medical community, and the House of Lords, agree that pleural plaques are symptomless, cause no harm to those who have them and do not lead to the development of any other asbestos-related medical conditions.
"By pursuing this bill on a point of principle Kenny MacAskill risks damaging Scotland's financial services competitiveness – in direct contrast to the reassurance of Alex Salmond and John Swinney during Global Financial Services Week less than a month ago. The Government should rethink their approach."
The Holyrood bill will put Gordon Brown under massive pressure to now follow suit at Westminster.
The bill is certain to pass as it is backed by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament.