Just about everyone knows there are dangers associated with asbestos, but just what is asbestos and how does it relate to compensation?
Illawarra Mercury spoke to RMB Lawyers’ head of compensation Chris Sheppard about dust diseases, how they are contracted and what people can do about making a claim if they have been affected.
“Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which was mined for many years,” Mr Sheppard said.
“Between in or about 1920 and 1983, asbestos was a commonly used product in a wide variety of industries. It has tremendous fire resistance, tensile strength, sound absorption and insulating properties and was used in a multitude of building, construction and other products.”
Despite these virtues, the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibre may cause a person to develop diseases of the lung and the pleura, and this is usually many years after exposure.
Diseases caused by asbestos include non-malignant conditions such as pleural plaques, Asbestos Related Pleural Disease (APRD) and asbestosis.
However, it can also cause malignant conditions such as mesothelioma and asbestos induced lung cancer. Mesothelioma is currently incurable.
“These diseases are caused as a result of the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibre,” Mr Sheppard said.
“That inhalation traditionally occurred in the workplace or while performing home renovations. However, inhalation can occur in any circumstance were a person is exposed to friable airborne dust and fibres.”
The latency period from the time of exposure to the time of developing the condition is generally between 10 to 50 years.
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Mr Sheppard said those most likely to develop a dust disease were people who worked in or lived near the asbestos mining industry, anyone who worked in an industry where products containing asbestos were used or handled, wives and family members as a result of airing out and washing the asbestos laden work clothes of their partners, those performing demolition of structures containing asbestos products or people performing home renovations on properties constructed in or before 1983.
Whether malignant or non-malignant, the common dust diseases compensation can be sought for include mesothelioma, ARPD, asbestosis and asbestos related lung cancer.
“A claim can be brought at any time,” Mr Sheppard advised.
“Limitation periods do not apply to asbestos disease claims. However, it is wise to seek legal advice as soon as you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition.”
Mr Sheppard indicated it was important to note any asbestos disease victim can bring two forms of claims:
- A claim for compensation in ‘iCare Dust Diseases’ (formerly known as the Dust Diseases Board). Eligible persons are entitled to weekly benefits, home modifications and medical expenses. Some of these benefits can pass onto dependents should the victim die as a result of the asbestos related disease.
- A claim for damages in the Dust Diseases Tribunal. The DDT is a specialist court designed to deal with asbestos disease cases. These claims are for damages for pain and suffering, wage loss, domestic assistance and medical expenses. A successful claim results in a tax free lump sum payment of damages.
A person who recovers a lump sum of damages in the Dust Disease Tribunal may also retain his or her entitlements from iCare Dust Diseases in most cases.
“It is important that anyone who is diagnosed with an asbestos related disease obtains legal advice as soon as possible,” Mr Sheppard urged.
“This is particularly so with conditions such as mesothelioma which can cause death within months of diagnosis.”
A claim in the Dust Diseases Tribunal must be started prior to death in order for the person’s rights to survive them. This means that claims must be made as soon as possible following diagnosis.
“Seeing a solicitor from RMB Lawyers at the earliest stage will allow us sufficient time to comprehensively investigate all potential claims and protect you and your family’s entitlement to compensation,” Mr Sheppard said.
“At RMB Lawyers we act for sufferers of asbestos diseases on a no win – no fee basis. That means you won’t be charged as we perform the work to establish, investigate and pursue your claim.
“We will also pay for all of the medical reports and court filing fees necessary to commence your claim.”