Time to catch up
THE Australian Government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency says in the next 20 years 30-40,000 Australians will be diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
According to its website, due to the long period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of the disease, the number of people diagnosed will continue to rise.
It said Australia has the highest reported per capita incidence of asbestos-related disease in the world and in 2010, 642 Australians died from mesothelioma- a cancer associated with exposure to asbestos.
The Asbestos Diseases Society Australia (WA) has started a petition titled Support the passage of the Asbestos Diseases Compensation Bill 2013, which calls for legislative reform to bring WA into line with other Australian states.
It addressed the Legislative Council and said WA was in need of changes and while these would be a landmark move for WA, asbestos victims in other states have had access to this kind of justice for many years.
“Provisional Damages, the ‘once and for all rule’, should be amended in asbestos disease actions so that, where the victim of a tort develops, subsequent to judgement, an injury or disease which is of a different or more serious character than the injury or disease from which the person suffered at the time of judgement, a Court will be authorised to award further damages to that victim,” it said.
Slater and Gordon asbestos lawyer Laine McDonald said WA had fallen behind the nation when it came to bringing justice to victims.
“Western Australian asbestos victims need two legislative changes which would give Western Australians the same kind of justice offered to victims in other states,” she said.
“Firstly, currently in Western Australia, asbestosis sufferers can only claim common law compensation once. This means if they go on to develop a fatal disease, like mesothelioma, they are not able to be compensated for that deadly condition.
“This leaves victims with a heart-breaking dilemma. They must gamble on whether to claim now and forfeit any chance of compensation for a terminal disease; or do nothing and run the risk of missing out on compensation for their current asbestosis.”
She said the proposed legislation would allow victims to receive provisional damages for their first illness and make a further claim if they developed a more serious illness later.
She said the second area of legislative reform related to what was known as Sullivan versus Gordon damages, which would allow asbestos victims to be compensated for the care costs of anyone they look after, when they’re no longer able to care for them.
“Asbestos victims who care for their young child, elderly parent or partner with a disability, for example, are currently missing out under Western Australian law because they cannot be compensated for their domestic services,” she said.
“The proposed legislation would mean victims can claim for the commercial cost of replacing the care that they would normally have provided if they hadn’t become ill or passed away.”