The man worked for various employers over a 13-year period when he was exposed to crystalline silica dust, causing a respiratory disease known as silicosis. He has also been diagnosed with a moderately severe adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood, caused by and secondary to his accelerated silicosis.
Silicosis has been compared to mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos, and is now a major workplace, health and safety concern, with a growing number of cases due to the popularity of manufactured stone bench-tops in Australia.
While the man is seeking damages from Caesarstone Australia and others, his health continues to deteriorate, and clumsily-worded Queensland laws have required his lawyers to go to the District Court to clarify his starting point.
Almost 20 years ago, the rising cost of insurance prompted the Queensland Government to impose new requirements on personal injury legal claims to prevent unnecessary litigation. At the time, people with an asbestos or dust-related disease claim were given an exemption, due primarily to their reduced life expectancy, but it was unclear whether this would apply to the man’s secondary conditions.
Justice Helen Bowskill found that forcing the man to meet the broader personal injury requirements would be “inconvenient, inefficient and costly”. It could also see him die before his damages claim is decided: medical advice suggests he will require a lung transplant within five years, which will allow him to live another eight years.
Justice Bowskill gave the man’s lawyers a court-backed exemption on the basis that the laws introduced by the former Labor government, and passed by Parliament, contained a drafting error.
“It is clear that the intention of Parliament in enacting (the legislative exemption) was to facilitate the early hearing and resolution of claims by people suffering from dust-related conditions, unhampered by the procedural requirements,” she ruled.
“Although, as (the Act) records, one of the purposes of the changes brought about by that legislation was to provide a procedure for speedy resolution of claims, it is apparent that the Parliament accepted that the application of this new procedure may in fact impede or delay the claims of people suffering from dust-related conditions such that it was appropriate to exempt them.”
Queensland regulators had recorded 249 cases of silicosis by the end of 2019-20, including 61 diagnosed that financial year alone. Authorities continue to raise awareness of the problems with affected industries and the doctors who may treat workers.
A National Dust Disease Taskforce is also preparing a report for the Federal Government on possible reforms to better protect workers, prompted also by the re-emergence of black lung disease in Queensland’s coal sector.
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