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Asbestos victims must keep their common law rights

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Media Release

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National law firm Slater and Gordon has opposed the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s proposal to cap Tasmanian asbestos victims’ compensation and preclude them from accessing their common law rights.

Slater and Gordon Hobart-based lawyer Leigh Harper said the TCCI’s suggestion, currently being considered by the Tasmanian Government’s Asbestos Reform Agenda, was a ‘one size fits all’ solution that would be a mistake for Tasmanian asbestos victims.

“While these proposed reforms would supposedly speed the compensation process, plans for a statutory scheme are based on the erroneous assumption that all cases of asbestos exposure arise in the workplace,” Mr Harper said.

“Although this may have been largely the case in the past, the problem is that asbestos products have been in our community for some time and an increasing number of cases of exposure are occurring outside the workplace. As time goes on, we’re seeing more and more wives, self employed tradespeople and contractors such as builders, plumbers, electricians, home renovators, bystanders and others developing asbestos-related diseases.”

While improving the compensation scheme for victims was an admirable goal, the changes being proposed by the government would not assist everyone suffering from asbestos disease in Tasmania, Mr Harper said.

He said the compensation system should ensure a consistent approach for all victims, and not provide different paths to compensation depending on where the person was exposed.

Mr Harper said there were some ‘easy fixes’ that could be made to improve the current common law rights for asbestos disease sufferers, rather than introducing an entirely new scheme that would only benefit some victims.

“Common law rights allow for more than a one size fits all approach and it recognises the individual circumstances of each asbestos sufferer,” he said.

“If the current laws are to be changed at all, it should be done to improve the situation for all potential victims of asbestos exposure.

“Minor changes to the laws affecting the current common law system could improve access to compensation and bring Tasmania into line with other States in Australia.

“The common law system has been developed and refined over many years. It’s the best way of ensuring that compensation takes into account the individual circumstances of the asbestos disease sufferer.”

Mr Harper also said the common law scheme was the best system for ensuring that the company responsible for creating the danger was held to account.

“The TCCI has publicly supported the proposal that the scheme be funded by a levy on all Tasmania employers. This removes the responsibility that companies such as James Hardie, CSR and Cement Australia - the major producers and distributors of asbestos products in this country - have towards  compensating victims,” he said.

“Instead, it places that cost in the lap of Tasmanian employers, regardless of whether they have had any involvement with asbestos products or not.”