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Asbestos victims are dying before their cases are completed

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July 12, 2008

Asbestos victims are dying before their cases are completed

A Sydney judge is urging the NSW Government to change its policies regarding a system introduced in 2005 to help save costs but is disadvantageous to mesothelioma sufferers.

Judge Bill Kearns stated last month that under the system, individuals are dying before their compensation cases come to a close. He said claimants are caused more distress which weaken their ability to provide clear evidence.

The new system was implemented as a result of the amount of criticism drawn from extensive legal costs in a 2004 case. Under the system, the standard method for resolving claim became mediation, with a set timetable in place. If there is medical evidence which shows that a plaintiff will likely die before the timetable is over, the case can be referred to a judge of the Dust Disease Tribunal to speed up the process.

The Government reported that after a year, it saw the legal costs for plaintiffs decreasing slightly and for defendants decreasing significantly.

However, Judge Kearns said in February that he was aware of at least 10 cases during his two years of service where the mesothelioma patient died within two weeks of being removed from the claims resolution process under the new system. He criticized the system for denying a plaintiff access to a judge until the individual was extremely close to dying, which by then the person is in such a poor state that there is little chance for the case to conclude before he or she dies.

Judge Kearn's comments have been referred to the Attorney-General, whose spokesman has said that his office is looking into ways of improving the resolution process.

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