Asbestos is a fibrous silicate material which was widely used in construction in Australia. From around the 1940s, it was commonly used in residential properties until its production was stopped in the 1980s when it was found that asbestos fibres could be breathed into the lungs. Asbestos has now been linked to many serious medical conditions including mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural plaques.
In Queensland, people who contract a disease as a result of exposure to asbestos or other dusts in the course of their work are generally entitled to lump sum compensation.
Compensation is only available where another party was responsible for exposing you to asbestos, and thereby negligent.
To establish negligence, you must prove that:
- the person who caused your exposure to asbestos owed you a duty of care,
- they breached that duty of care, and
- you suffered harm or damage as a result of that breach.
In most cases, the defendants responsible for asbestos exposure include former employers, manufacturers of asbestos containing products (for example the James Hardie cases) or occupiers of property that contain asbestos.
If you are one of several people who were exposed to asbestos in the same circumstances, you may be able to join your claims into a class action suit. This is often a more cost efficient way of settling a large number of similar claims.
Am I eligible to make a claim?
You may have grounds to make a claim if you have been:
- exposed to asbestos, and
- diagnosed with an asbestos-related injury by a medical professional.
Most claimants are people who have come into contact with asbestos in their line of employment. However, eligibility for compensation is not limited to occupational exposure. You may also be able to make a claim if you were exposed as a result of having asbestos in your home or through a family member’s work clothes or equipment.
Asbestos-related conditions often emerge many years after exposure. It doesn’t matter if your exposure to asbestos was many years ago or if your former employer no longer exists.
Types of compensation available
As with other personal injury actions, there are various “heads of damages” or categories of expenses that the court will use to calculate the total amount of money you are entitled to.
These categories include:
- Medical, hospital and rehabilitation costs,
- Income lost as a result of not being able to work,
- Compensation for lost ability to earn income,
- Compensation for your pain and suffering,
- Compensation for your loss of enjoyment of life,
- Paid or unpaid home care, and
- Cost of home adjustments or appliances required for your care.
For categories not associated with liquidated amounts, the court will determine what is appropriate and fair having regard to your age, the extent of your injuries, the effect of those injuries on your lifestyle.
What to do if you think you have an asbestos related condition
First, seek medical advice on your diagnosis and likely cause of your condition. Then get legal advice on your prospects of succeeding in an asbestos negligence claim.