Asbestos-related illnesses: Victims win right to claim damages after landmark ruling

A landmark court ruling has backed a law which gives victims of an asbestos-related condition the right to claim damages.

Three Court of Session judges refused the appeal by some of the biggest insurance companies that opposed the law, which came into force in Scotland two years ago.

A judge threw out the first challenge to the Damages Act in January last year, prompting the appeal that was rejected on Tuesday.

The Scottish Parliament passed the legislation in March 2009, overturning a landmark House of Lords ruling that people with pleural plaques, a thickening of lung membranes, cannot claim compensation.

Pleural plaques can be caused by past exposure to asbestos but have no symptoms or ill-effects and are not considered a disease in their own right.

Hundreds of former workers in the Clydeside shipyards in Glasgow and Clydebank are among those who claim they contracted pleural plaques after asbestos exposure during their employment. Former shipyard workers in Dundee and other Scottish cities are also in line to benefit from the ruling.

Insurers warned that MSPs ignored medical opinion and could "open the floodgates" for claims.

The industry argued that the law breaks the European Convention on Human Rights provisions on property rights and unreasonable legal interference.

Supporters of the law, such as Clydeside Action On Asbestos, argued that the benign scarring on lungs proved past exposure to asbestos and increased the risk of fatal disease.

During scrutiny of the legislation, the Scottish Government estimated that costs are likely to peak between £7m and £19m in the next decade.

But the insurance industry claimed the costs over the next 20 years will average between £76m and £607m.

The law was passed in the face of Tory opposition, in a 98-16 vote at Holyrood.

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