In November 2018, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report highlighting the significant and devastating impact mesothelioma is having on Australians.
It’s why we’re passionately advocating for Australians diagnosed with mesothelioma and their families to know how to seek compensation and help them get the full scope of their entitlements.
In this article, we look at the impact of mesothelioma in Australia, common misconceptions about how it is contracted, who is eligible for compensation, and the importance of seeking timely, expert legal advice so sufferers of this deadly cancer can get the compensation they may deserve.
Mesothelioma and its deadly impact on Australians
Up until the mid-1980s, Australia had one of the highest rates of asbestos use per person in the world.
Consequently, we now have one of the highest incidence rates of mesothelioma cancer globally. Between 700 and 800 Australians are diagnosed each year.
Symptoms of mesothelioma typically appear 20–40 years after a person has been exposed to asbestos—it has one of the longest latency periods of all diseases.
Sadly, there is no cure for this rare and aggressive cancer. According to analysis of all mesothelioma diagnoses and deaths recorded in the Australian Mesothelioma Registry as at September 2018, the average time from diagnosis to death is just 11 months.
While the use of asbestos cement materials in Australia was phased out during the 1980s, given mesothelioma’s long latency period, diagnoses of this devastating cancer will continue for the next 10 to 15 years.
How do people contract mesothelioma?
Asbestos was commonly used in industries with a historically male dominant workforce such as building, manufacturing and steelworks, and many mesothelioma cases are caused from occupational exposure to asbestos products. It’s why today we’re seeing four times as many males diagnosed as females.
But occupational exposure was not the only cause of mesothelioma.
People who undertook home renovations or who washed the work clothes of their spouse can be exposed to asbestos dust. Often being in the vicinity of and breathing in asbestos dust can be enough to cause the disease. Known as ‘bystander exposure’, a significant portion of all people suffering mesothelioma come under this category.
For example, a sufferer may have contracted mesothelioma from living in the same house as someone working with asbestos materials.
One of my recent cases involved a 41-year-old lady who sadly contracted the disease despite never working in an industry handling asbestos materials.
After careful investigation, we discovered her only exposure occurred as a child while washing her father’s overalls contaminated with asbestos dust.
Given exposure can occur up to 40 years earlier and may have only been very minor, many sufferers can’t remember how they came into contact with asbestos.
A specialist lawyer will know the right questions to ask to navigate a sufferer’s complete history to identify how and when they were exposed.
Who is eligible for compensation for mesothelioma?
A common misconception is only people who were exposed to asbestos in their line of work are eligible to claim for compensation.
In fact, anyone who is suffering from a dust-disease condition like mesothelioma can investigate and bring a claim in the Dust Diseases Tribunal —a court set up specifically to deal with these types of claims.
For work-related exposure, in some states and territories, sufferers may be able to claim under a workers compensation scheme or a statutory body, possibly in addition to the lump sum compensation awarded through a court or tribunal. Schemes vary in each state or territory, including time limits for lodging applications, and it is important to obtain legal advice about them. The various schemes in each state or territory are:
Why acting fast is crucial in mesothelioma cases
After being diagnosed, it’s important those affected and their support networks lodge a claim quickly because strict time limits do apply, and vary widely by state and territory. For example:
- Queensland: six-month time limit from the date of diagnosis to lodge a claim.
- Western Australia: three-year time limit from diagnosis to lodge a court claim.
- New South Wales and Northern Territory: no time limits.
Lodging even a day late can mean a claim may be rejected. A lawyer experienced in the field will help ensure these time limits are met so their client doesn’t miss out on their right to compensation.
There are a number of other specific, time-sensitive considerations to take into account when d helpealing with mesothelioma cases. These include:
Identifying the source of asbestos exposure
It's crucial sufferers speak with an expert lawyer as soon as possible while still in relatively good health. This helps to obtain all the necessary information to identify the circumstances of exposure and lodge a claim within the required time limit.
A lawyer not specialised in this area would have little to no idea about how to ask questions pinpoint when and where asbestos exposure occurred. This can add time and further distress to an already overwhelming process, and often, not achieve a result for the client at all.
Protecting future eligibility for claiming damages
If a claim has not been filed before the sufferer passes away, their family is not able to claim or access general damages. That’s why it’s so important for people diagnosed with mesothelioma to contact an expert lawyer who will get this process underway in a timely manner.
Finalising a case within the sufferer’s lifetime
While a case can still be finalised after the sufferer has passed away, knowing the outcome of their case is an important source of comfort.
In some circumstances, this may mean a case is heard outside of court; for example, my team and I recently represented a man who was gravely ill. The hearing was conducted in the hospital with the judge and barristers by his bedside. Being able to confirm his family was going to be financially supported was vital to his peace of mind in his last days.
The importance of expert legal advice: what to look for when getting help
Mesothelioma compensation is a highly complex area of the law, with less than 20 accredited specialists working in this field across the country.
Lawyers in this area must have a comprehensive understanding of dust disease legislation, the history of asbestos and the occupations that came into contact with the material.
Working with a specialist will reduce the time taken to investigate a claim, while also giving you greater confidence knowing we’ve helped others like you get the full scope of entitlements.
As an accredited specialist working in this field in NSW for more than 20 years, I truly understand my clients’ challenges and the faith they have in our team to help them with their claim.
We draw on our extensive experience and expertise to support our clients through what is a devastating journey and help get the best resolution for them and their families.
One of my proudest cases was winning a landmark $2.2 million damages claim against BHP for Steven Dunning, a former BHP steelworker from the Hunter Valley—the highest amount of damages awarded for pain and suffering in New South Wales.
While no amount of financial compensation will make up for the diagnosis of this deadly cancer, knowing their family will be financially supported means that sufferers can focus on making the most of the time they have left.
How we can help
Have you or some you love been diagnosed with mesothelioma? It’s crucial to get advice from an expert asbestos lawyer to begin the legal process and meet the time limits in your state or territory.
Slater and Gordon has been representing clients with mesothelioma for the past 35 years, with specialists in every state and territory who only deal with dust disease cases.
*No Win, No Fee conditions apply. See here.