Slater and Gordon has announced a class action on behalf of individuals diagnosed with respiratory illnesses as a result of being exposed to silica dust from engineered stone benchtops.
This is an important development in protecting the rights of those affected by silicosis arising from engineered stone benchtops, as it will provide important protections to all individuals who have suffered harm as a result of these products, regardless of whether they have access to a lawyer or have the ability to pursue their own claims.
The class action is being run in addition to existing workers' compensation rights that individuals have available, so it's important to be aware of how these operate.
Key points – what you should do if you're affected by silicosis or exposure to silica dust:
See your doctor as soon as possible to get checked.
Register your exposure here to ensure your details are recorded for the purposes of the class action and any individual claims you might have available to you.
Speak to a Workers' Compensation lawyer to pursue any rights or benefits you have available.
As silicosis remains an emerging health crisis, unfortunately more people will continue to be diagnosed with the disease into the future. A diagnosis like this can be extremely disruptive and distressing for the workers affected, as well as their families and friends, and often the last thing that people in those circumstances will want to do is try to navigate through complex and confusing legal issues. To help, we've prepared this quick guide to the kinds of rights that workers diagnosed with silicosis may have, and how they can interact with one another.
There are a few main legal areas to be aware of if you have been affected by silicosis, however everyone's individual circumstances will differ. The best starting point will almost always be to speak to a lawyer who can explain how these issues affect you specifically.
Get in contact with a lawyer at Slater and Gordon for a free discussion about the Class Action, Workers' Compensation entitlements, and any other rights you may have.
Workers' Compensation Rights
In most jurisdictions, people who suffer injuries or illnesses in the course of their employment will have access to statutory benefits that can assist them while they're unable to work. These can take the form of (for example) weekly payments for a period of time while you are unable to work, or a lump sum payment where a worker has suffered from a permanent impairment. Although the precise arrangements in place vary between each state and territory, these statutory entitlements can provide important assistance to people who are unable to work.
In addition, in certain circumstances there can be the ability to bring a common law claim for damages against an employer concerning a work-based injury where certain conditions are met, however in some jurisdictions these conditions can impose something of a barrier to pursuing a claim – for example, a worker who was exposed to silica dust at multiple workplaces might need to satisfy strict procedural requirements in relation to each place of employment.
Workers' compensation claims for damages are typically brought in relation to an employer's conduct, but in many circumstances other parties might be joined to a claim by a defendant or workers' compensation authority, such as the manufacturers of products involved in the claims. This can add to the cost, time, and difficulty involved in some kinds of claims, which could potentially alter the strengths and weaknesses of each party's position – for example, if the costs involved in the litigation start to overtake the amount of damages available to be sought. One of the advantages of pursuing claims against manufacturers in a larger claim like the class action is that the fight about the manufacturers' responsibility can happen in a setting where the costs of that dispute will remain far lower than the overall value of the claim, which can reduce some of the pressure on claimants
It is critically important that workers who have been affected by silicosis pursue their statutory entitlements when they're available – and just as importantly, that they are pursued as soon as possible after a diagnosis has been made, as strict time limits can apply.
It is also important to note that the class action is not a substitute for these workers' compensation rights – rather, it is in addition to them. While the class action is being prepared and run, we will still be recommending all affected workers involved to pursue their statutory entitlements as soon as they can – this ensures they will get access to their entitlements as soon as possible, while also gaining the protection of the class action and the ability to pursue any additional damages they are entitled to subsequently.
The Silicosis Class Action
The class action focuses on the role of manufacturers, and the responsibility they have under Australian law for harms caused by their products. There are a number of benefits of running a class action, which are explained in more detail on our class actions site, but some of the key ones include:
The class action will automatically cover all people who are affected by claims raised in it, rather than needing people to take steps to individually sign up or commence a claim in court personally.
Once a class action has been commenced, it will stop time limits from running for group members' claims against the defendants involved – without this protection, strict time limits will ordinarily apply to individuals' claims against these parties.
A class action will inevitably be a much larger claim than any individual litigation would be, which can provide significant advantages and economies of scale when litigating against much larger entities in cases where there is likely to be a great deal of complex evidence and many areas in dispute.
The class action approach will help ensure that manufacturers are held to account for the harms caused by their products, while ensuring that the rights of as many people as possible are protected.
Importantly, the class action is being run in addition to existing workers' compensation rights that individuals have available, so it's not a situation where workers need to choose one or the other. Usually, the best approach will be to pursue any existing workers' compensation entitlements you have available straight away, and also to register your details in relation to the class action so that you can also benefit from that case if it leads to additional compensation entitlements for you.
Superannuation and TPD rights
Individuals who have superannuation that includes 'total and permanent disability' (or TPD) insurance coverage may be able to access those benefits if they become permanently unfit for work. Claims of this nature will vary based on personal circumstances, including the nature of your superannuation and the coverage it provide, and your level of impairment and ability to work.
Slater and Gordon has a specialist team of lawyers who are experts in the TPD claim process, who can assist you to pursue any rights you have, alongside our workers' compensation and class actions lawyers, who can advise you about those areas.
What to do if you're affected
The most important thing to do if you have been affected by exposure to silica dust is to see your doctor and get your health checked.
If you're concerned that you may be affected by a silica-related illness, the best thing to do to protect your rights is to get advice from a lawyer who can explain your options to you, so that you can make an informed choice about what you want to do. It's important to seek legal advice as soon as you can if you have been diagnosed with silicosis (or any work-related injury), as there are strict time limits that can apply to claims.
You don't need to use Slater and Gordon to pursue a workers' compensation claim in order to be part of the class action – you can use any lawyers you want to: the most important thing is that you pursue your entitlements as soon as you can. By contacting Slater and Gordon about your rights, though, you do get the advantage of having all of the above legal areas looked at together.
The expert team at Slater and Gordon can provide you with advice and representation in relation to your workers' compensation entitlements, the class action, and any superannuation/TPD benefits available to you – meaning you can be confident that you're receiving comprehensive advice about all aspects of your claims, all at once.