The appellants had been negligently exposed to asbestos at work and developed pleural plaques. Their case was put to the House of Lords on three main grounds:

a) Pleural plaques alone represent damage.

Lord Hoffman rejected this. He said pleural plaques cause no symptoms, do not increase susceptibility to other disease or shorten life expectancy and had had no effect on the health of the appellants.

b) Pleural plaques plus anxiety about the risks of developing another asbestos related disease “aggregate” to damage.

This was also rejected unanimously by the Law Lords. Neither the pleural plaques nor anxiety without psychiatric injury represented damage in law on their own and they could not be linked together when neither one nor the other had any value in law.

c) Psychiatric and physical injury developing from general anxiety.

One appellant, Mr Grieves, had developed a full blown psychiatric injury and irritable bowel syndrome through his anxiety about the pleural plaques. The Law Lords dismissed his claim because , they ruled:

1. The risk of asbestos related disease in this claim would not cause a psychiatric illness to a person of reasonable fortitude.
2. Mr Grieves had also relied on the precedent of Page -v- Smith, namely that where any physical injury was foreseeable as a result of an event, then any consequent psychiatric injury was compensatable. The Law Lords again disagreed saying that what was foreseeable, that he would contract asbestos related disease, had not occurred. His injury was caused by his worry that it might occur and this was not the same principle as Page.

All the claimants lost.

Johnston -v- NEI International Combustion Ltd; Rothwell -v- Chemical & Insulating Co Ltd; Topping -v- Benchtown Ltd; Grieves -v- F T Everard & Sons (the pleural plaques test case) [2007] UKHL 39, on appeal from [2006] EWCA Civ 27