Developments in Dust Disease Compensation
Chris Sheppard is an Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law and Compensation Law Division manager at RMB Lawyers. In this column from 2011 he looks at developments in dust disease compensation.
There have been two significant recent developments in the State and Federal Governments’ policies to deal with asbestos contamination and its effects on those who come into contact with the potentially deadly product.
The NSW Ombudsman earlier this year released a report calling for additional funding to help prevent exposure to asbestos throughout the State. This funding is aimed at putting practices into place to minimise the public’s exposure to this cancer-causing fibre.
However, for many Australians this will be too late. According to the report, 1014 people died in Australia from the cancer mesothelioma during the five years to 2006.
Alarmingly, the report estimates that by 2020, Australia will have 13,000 cases of mesothelioma and another 40,000 cases of people suffering asbestos-related conditions such as asbestosis.
This is despite the fact that the use of asbestos ended in 1983, and there has been a nationwide ban on importing and using all forms of asbestos since 2003. Unfortunately mesothelioma has a long incubation period, so many people who will need treatment for this terrible disease are currently unaware that they have a problem.
The second significant development came when the Commonwealth Government announced that it will loan NSW $160 million to ensure that asbestos victims will receive their full entitlement to compensation. Prior to this announcement there were concerns that the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (established in 2006 to fund compensation payments awarded against the main producer of asbestos-related products, James Hardie Industries) would experience a shortfall within the next 12 months and that victims may not receive their full entitlements.
There were concerns that if the fund did not receive assistance victims would be paid their compensation in instalments, and that some may not live long enough to receive their full compensation.
The Government loan does not absolve James Hardie Industries from its liability, with the loan required to be repaid over time.
Many people who suffer from asbestos or other dust-related diseases (such as former coal miners) receive a Dust Diseases Board pension. However, they may be able to claim additional compensation without affecting their pension payment.
If you fit into this category, it is important to get the right legal advice to ensure that your rights are protected.