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What you need to know about asbestos legal cases

Asbestos, naturally occurring mineral fibres mined in and imported into Australia for the better part of the 20th century, has been linked to a variety of cancers and lung diseases. Asbestos disease is responsible for around 700 deaths a year, mostly Australians who were exposed decades ago at work.

If you have ever been subjected to asbestos exposure, whether during employment or in your environment and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, one of the most prevalent asbestos-related diseases, you may be able to file a mesothelioma lawsuit and gain compensation.

Even if you don’t have mesothelioma, you may have asbestosis, lung cancer with ties to asbestos exposure, or another related disease that qualifies you as an asbestos victim. Here’s what you need to know about asbestos legal cases.

What are the risks of asbestos exposure?

Asbestos poses a serious risk to health if fibres that are suspended in air are breathed into the lungs. Breathing asbestos fibres often causes mesothelioma, a disease which can emerge decades after exposure and rapidly move through its stages of development to death. Asbestos can also cause cancer of the larynx and ovaries as well as pharynx, stomach and colorectal cancer.

The four major asbestos-related diseases are:

Pleural plaques

Pleural plaques are areas of white, smooth, raised scar tissue on the outer lining of the lung, internal chest wall and diaphragm. These often serve as an early warning sign that a person has been exposed to asbestos. However, not everyone’s immune system responds the same way to asbestos fibres and some people with severe asbestos exposure never develop pleural plaques at all. Pleural plaques may exist without impairing lung function for years.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a chronic condition caused by inflammation or scarring in the lungs due to heavy, prolonged exposure to asbestos. It causes shortness of breath, coughing and permanent lung damage.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer causes cancerous tumours to appear and grow, mainly in the lining of the tubes leading into the lungs, the smaller airways, or the middle of the lungs. The cancer cells can migrate to lymph nodes and other organs of the body in metastasis. Risk of asbestos-related cancer goes up if you also smoke, or have pre-existing lung disease or exposure to other carcinogens.

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer of the membranous tissue that lines the body cavities. It is most likely to appear on the lungs, although roughly 1 in 10 victims suffers cancer in their abdomen instead, and very rarely the reproductive organs or heart may be affected.

Mesothelioma can take decades to present, and then moves swiftly, with a survival rate of less than 6% of patients in the five years following diagnosis. Almost all mesothelioma victims have a confirmed history of significant asbestos exposure.

What are the risks of asbestos exposure?

Australia has the highest incidence of mesothelioma cases of any other country outside of the U.K. This incredibly high incidence of mesothelioma correlates with the country’s history of the highest per capita rate of asbestos use in the world for many decades.

The occupation with the highest exposure risk in Australia was asbestos mining. Running a close second are occupations that produce a lot of dust such as sawing, sanding, drilling, grinding or handling asbestos products or asbestos-containing materials, including construction workers, and manufacturing workers.

Carpenters, electricians, power plant workers, plumbers, metal workers and telecommunication workers file some of the highest numbers of mesothelioma claims, accounting for a large percentage of asbestos litigation.

Boiler workers, naval yard workers (including ship builders), those who worked in insulation, and anyone doing renovation in homes built with asbestos products are at risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos related disease.

The shocking thing about asbestos injuries is that companies profiting from the mining of asbestos and manufacture of asbesto products knew for years that asbestos was harmful, but did not warn workers or attempt to protect them from breathing asbestos fibres.

As a result, it is anticipated that 1 out of 10 construction workers born before 1950 will die of asbestos-related cancer. More than 10,000 people have already succumbed to mesothelioma since 1983 when asbestos was finally banned in Australia, and an additional 25,000 people are expected to die from related causes between now and 2060.

James Hardie Industries

James Hardie Industries owned asbestos mines in Australia, Canada and Zimbabwe. Executives were fully aware of the risks associated with exposure to the airborne fibers but never warned asbestos miners or workers in the company’s many plants of these risks.

It wasn’t just employees who suffered. Asbestos products were used heavily in construction, and any subsequent add-ons, rebuilds or renovations exposed homeowners. Entire communities were affected as waste from Hardie plants were used in playgrounds, driveways and park paths.

Asbestos-contaminated waste was used to manufacture burlap fruit and vegetable bags. Asbestos fibres from the mines also washed down into water supplies, contaminating huge areas and putting indegenous people at extremely high risk. Entire towns eventually had to be shut down due to the levels of asbestos contamination.

Cases of lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and other diseases related to asbestos exposure in Australia have a high chance of tracing back to James Hardie Industries. The first asbestos negligence case was won against the massive company in 1991.

Since then, compensation has been widened to include not only workers who were directly exposed to asbestos in the course of their livelihood, but homeowners who were exposed during renovations, remodeling or home expansions, and people working in buildings or facilities where renovation or construction was taking place.

In 2006, the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund Limited was formed to implement and administer the agreement between James Hardie Industries NV and the New South Wales Government, creating a new fund which would pay compensation awarded against former James Hardie companies.

What are the statute of limitations on asbestos/mesothelioma

The statute of limitations for filing a mesothelioma claim or other injury or negligence claim supported by a history of asbestos exposure is typically 6 to 12 months from diagnosis, not the initial exposure.

This is because symptoms related to asbestos exposure often don’t present for up to 20 to 60 years after exposure, and then the disease progresses rapidly.

The one limitation on asbestos lawsuits for mesothelioma compensation is that asbestos claims must be filed while the victim is still living, and family members can continue the action after the asbestos victim’s death to receive compensation owed. Family members can, however, file a wrongful death claim if it comes to light that their loved one died of an asbestos disease.

Filing a civil claim

A civil claim can be filed even if employment was not the cause of your asbestos exposure. A mesothelioma lawyer can help walk you through the process involved with filing a mesothelioma lawsuit and either negotiating a settlement or going to trial to win you compensation.

Payout schemes

Most states and territories have established statutory schemes to provide payouts to employees harmed by asbestos exposure. Your asbestos attorney can inform you if you qualify for one of these schemes, and if you can file both a civil and statutory claim.

Authorities governing such schemes are:

 

Litigation over mesothelioma cases rarely drags out, in part due to the fact that once a diagnosis is given, the life expectancy of the plaintiff is rarely longer than a year and often only 3-4 months. Cases usually are settled within that same time frame but it may take up to 18 months in more complex scenarios.

The asbestos-related illness claims process

Making an asbestos claim starts with determining eligibility (if you have a diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease, you are probably eligible.) We’ll gather evidence to support your claim, including records of your employment or exposure and your medical files.

We will also consider your medical bills and other costs associated with your claim, and the financial support you provide to dependants. We’ll add in the figures for what you could have made in wages and your super contributions that are now cut short. All of these can be factors in what your compensation can be.

If you are applying for compensation with a government-run compensation scheme, we will help you to achieve your settlement. If you are filing a civil mesothelioma lawsuit or asbestos claim, you can help you whether it is negotiating a lump sum settlement or taking your case to court.

Seeking legal assistance from trained, experienced professionals should be a top priority when claiming asbestos disease compensation. A no-win, no-fee structure can protect you from legal fees and make it easier to file and pursue a claim for asbestos injuries.

At Gerard Malouf & Partners, we have a culture that is unique where “simply winning” is not enough but achieving “maximum justice in the minimum time using any resources available notwithstanding the efforts involved” is the requirement for any staff employed.

If you need help filing an asbestos negligence case or making a mesothelioma claim for compensation, contact us for no-obligation legal advice today.

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 — Personal Injury Compensation Lawyers

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