In a rare case, a claim on behalf of the deceased who had a diagnosis of pleural plaques and severe associated symptoms, ultimately leading to his death, has concluded in a significant settlement against the former employer by whom he was negligently exposed to asbestos.

The earlier House of Lords Judgment in Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co Ltd [2008] 1 AC 281 established that, notwithstanding the presence of pleural plaques caused by negligent exposure to asbestos at the hands of an employer, if the pleural plaques themselves do not cause any symptoms, then a claimant has not suffered damage sufficient to found a cause of action in tort.

Their Lordships did, however, leave the door open to exceptional cases where the existence of plaques within the lung(s) results in symptoms.

In the present unreported case, the deceased was negligently exposed to asbestos during his employment as a marine engineer. His duties required him to maintain asbestos lagging on pipework and boilers. The deceased’s symptoms manifested in 2011 in the form of breathlessness and recurrent chest infections. Subsequent investigations confirmed the presence of widespread bilateral calcified pleural plaques. The medical experts agreed that the deceased’s symptoms and deterioration in lung function were attributable to the plaques. The deceased developed bronchopneumonia consequent on the plaques in 2016, from which he died.

This unusual claim is a practical application of the exception envisaged by their Lordships in Rothwell and shows that a diagnosis of pleural plaques is not always a barrier to the success of a claim. If a claimant can prove their symptoms are a result of pleural plaques, they are equally entitled to an award of damages as if they had any other asbestos-related disease.