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What are dust diseases and how are they caused?

Dust disease, also known as occupational lung disease, includes a range of conditions caused by prolonged exposure to specific types of dust. These illnesses can be chronic and debilitating, often manifesting long after the initial dust exposure occurs.

Common dusts that can cause disease

  • Asbestos: inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead to diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
  • Silica: silica dust can cause silicosis, a lung disease characterised by inflammation and scarring of lung tissue, as well as a number of serious conditions like tuberculosis, lung cancer, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Coal dust: prolonged exposure to coal dust can result in coal workers pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease, as well as lung fibrosis.
  • Cotton dust: inhaling cotton dust can lead to byssinosis, also known as brown lung disease.
  • Grain dust: exposure to grain dust can cause respiratory conditions such as farmer's lung or grain fever.
  • Metal dust: various metal dusts (e.g., lead, cadmium) can lead to systemic toxicity, aluminous (aluminium in the lung) and hard metal pneumoconiosis.
  • Timber dust: inhaling timber dust can cause asthma, rhinitis and sino-nasal cancer.

If you have a dust disease, pursuing a compensation claim can offer vital financial support for you and your family. You may be eligible for a significant lump sum settlement to help offset lost income, medical expenses, and other associated costs.

Occupations most at risk of dust disease

In our 25 years’ experience handling dust disease claims, we’ve found that certain industries and occupations are particularly at risk:

  • Construction workers: especially those involved in demolition, renovation, carpeting, insulation, and roofing.
  • Shipbuilders: including shipyard workers, shipbuilders, and maintenance staff.
  • Miners: particularly those involved in coal and asbestos mining.
  • Factory workers: including automotive workers, textile workers, and boilermakers.

These occupations involve frequent exposure to harmful dust particles, increasing the risk of developing dust-related diseases over time.

Symptoms of dust disease

If you’ve been exposed to dust, keep an eye out for these typical dust disease symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Mucus in your airways
  • Persistent fatigue
  • A sudden and lingering cough
  • Frequent lung infections

It’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of these symptoms or have a history of dust exposure. Even if the exposure occurred many years ago, you’re still at risk of dust disease.

Am I eligible for a dust disease claim?

If you’ve developed a condition due to dust exposure, you may be eligible for compensation. While most claims are made by employees exposed to dust at work, anyone affected by a dust disease can pursue compensation.

It doesn’t matter if:

  • You’re a contractor.
  • You're self-employed.
  • Your employer no longer exists.
  • You no longer work at the place of exposure.
  • You’re a smoker.
  • The asbestos has been removed.
  • The exposure was not work-related.
  • Your exposure was indirect or second-hand.

This is not an exhaustive list. If you’ve been exposed to harmful dust or diagnosed with a dust disease, you may have a claim.

Not sure how or when you were exposed? We can investigate.

If you're uncertain about the specifics of your dust exposure, our expert lawyers can conduct a comprehensive investigation on your behalf. Leveraging our extensive experience in dust disease claims, we'll gather information from you and trace the source of your exposure, whether it originated from a workplace, building, or product.

Contact us today to discuss tracing your dust exposure history.

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What types of dust disease claims can I make?

There are two primary types of dust disease claims you can make: a ‘statutory claim’ and a ‘common law damages claim’.

Statutory compensation claims

If you were exposed to harmful dust at work, you may be eligible for a statutory compensation claim.

Each state in Australia has its own compensation scheme for dust diseases. For example, in Victoria and Queensland, you can usually file a dust disease claim through the standard workers compensation scheme. However, in states like NSW, you must apply through a specialised dust diseases body.

The exception to this rule applies if you were working for the Commonwealth or certain private companies (such as Telstra or Australia Post) at the time of your exposure. In these cases, you may have a claim under the Comcare scheme instead.

How much compensation can I get?

While most injured workers receive weekly payments, individuals with dust diseases may qualify for a lump sum settlement instead.

The amount you receive depends on factors such as your age, life expectancy, and the severity of impairment.

It’s important to note that your compensation may be subject to your state’s ‘maximum compensation’ limit, which is the highest amount you can receive for a single claim. This limit varies by state and is adjusted annually for inflation.

For instance, in Queensland, the current maximum compensation limit is $380,580, whereas in Tasmania, it stands at $362,077.20.

Common law damages claims

While statutory claims provide basic compensation, common law damages claims can offer substantial lump sum payouts for individuals affected by dust diseases.

Your eligibility for a common law damages claim depends on the specifics of your case and the state where your dust exposure happened.

StateEligibility
NSW, VIC, QLD, WAYou can claim common law damages in addition to your statutory compensation claim. Depending on your state, you may need to apply to the court or fulfil other criteria before starting your claim.
TASNo common law damages available unless the exposure occurred outside Tasmania or not as a result of employment.
ComcareYou must choose between a common law damages or a statutory compensation claim.

How to make a common law damages claim

You must meet four essential criteria to make a common law dust disease claim:

  1. Diagnosis: your dust disease must be diagnosed by a qualified medical professional.
  2. Dust exposure: you must have a documented history of exposure to harmful dust, whether it happened at work, at home, or elsewhere.
  3. Traceable source: you need to trace your dust exposure to a specific employer or manufacturer.
  4. Causation: your dust disease needs to be caused by that particular exposure.

In Western Australia, you may also be required to meet a minimum percentage of impairment before you can pursue a dust disease claim.

How much compensation will I receive?

You’ll receive lump sum compensation to cover costs like:

  • Pain and suffering (the impact of the dust disease on your life).
  • Loss of expectation of life.
  • Professional care or support provided by loved ones.
  • Loss of ability to care for a dependent, e.g. a child or spouse.
  • Lost income and superannuation (if your condition means you can’t work).
  • 'Out of pocket expenses' such as hospital fees, medication, and other costs related to your dust disease.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, you may have multiple claims for the same condition. Your specific entitlements depend on your state, the type of dust disease you have, and your ability to work.

In NSW and Victoria, for instance, if you’ve developed a non-cancerous dust disease such as a pleural disorder or asbestosis, you have the option to settle your claim on a ‘provisional basis’. This allows you to file another lawsuit if you later develop mesothelioma or another dust-related cancer.

Furthermore, if your condition prevents you from returning to work, you might be eligible for a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) claim. As part of our comprehensive service, we carefully evaluate your case’s circumstances and identify all potential claims. Often, these additional claims can be substantially more valuable than your initial dust disease claim alone.

In many states, you can make a ‘dependency claim’ if your loved one dies from a dust disease. A successful claim requires proof that:

  1. If the deceased were alive, they would still be entitled to compensation.
  2. You were their ‘dependent’, e.g. a spouse, child, or other person who was financially reliant on the deceased.

A successful claim can lead to:

  • A lump sum payment.
  • Weekly payments for dependent children.
  • Coverage of funeral expenses.

In most states, there are no time limits for dust disease claims, meaning you can pursue compensation regardless of when the exposure occurred. This rule also extends to Commonwealth dust disease claims.

Exceptions apply in South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia, where you must initiate your claim within three years of discovering you have a dust disease.

If you’re outside this time limit, our experienced dust disease lawyers are here to help. With over 25 years’ expertise in dust disease claims, we can petition for an extension on your behalf. Over the years, we have successfully resolved numerous delayed claims.

The duration of your claim hinges on several factors, including the type of condition you have, when you were exposed to the harmful dust and the number of parties responsible for your exposure.

Given the aggressive nature of diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and laryngeal cancer, most states have streamlined procedures to expedite dust disease claims. As a result, your claim could potentially be resolved within 2 to 6 months.

In NSW, for example, claims for many dust diseases follow an accelerated process through the Dust Diseases Tribunal. This involves specific protocols, early exchange of information, and a focus on achieving prompt settlements.

If your condition is severe, you have the option to request ‘urgent case management’, which prioritises your claim outside the standard tribunal procedures for a faster resolution.

How much will my claim cost?

Absolutely nothing. All statutory dust disease claims in NSW are government-funded through the Independent Review Office (IRO), allowing us to handle your claim without charging you a cent.

For common law damages or TPD claims not covered by the IRO, our No Win No Fee guarantee keeps your claim risk-free. There are no upfront fees, and you only pay if we succeed in securing your compensation. If we’re unsuccessful, there’s nothing to pay. It’s that simple.

  • Zero financial risk: we cover all upfront costs, including expert evidence, legal fees, and administrative expenses.
  • Transparent fees: you'll receive a detailed breakdown of our fees before we start your claim.
  • Avoid court costs: with our experience and strong negotiating tactics, your claim will likely settle through out-of-court mediation. This saves you the time and expense of going to court.
  • Reduced legal fees: we typically recover the majority of our fees from the opposing party, ensuring you keep more of your total compensation.
  • 30-day risk-free trial: take advantage of our 30-day trial period to evaluate our services. If you decide to cancel during this time, there are no charges.

The claims process

While every dust disease claim is unique, these are the basic steps your claim will progress through. At every stage, you’ll have the support, guidance and experience of our dedicated dust disease lawyers.

In a free consultation, you’ll discuss your situation with one of our lawyers. We’ll outline your potential claims, estimate your compensation, and explain the right strategy for maximising your benefits.

If you’re hospitalised or seriously ill, our lawyers can come to you.

We’ll notify your state insurer of your intent to file a dust disease workers compensation claim. For common law damages claims, we’ll submit a ‘statement of claim’ to commence court proceedings.

We’ll use our national network of medical and liability experts to compile robust evidence substantiating your claim. This evidence is pivotal in establishing the details and timing of your exposure and demonstrating the impact of your condition on your life.

If you’re sick and unable to travel, we can organise the swearing of legal documents at your hospital or home.

With comprehensive evidence in hand, we’ll formally lodge your claim with the relevant insurer or court. For workers compensation claims, approval and payment typically follow swiftly. Common law damages claims generally require you to attend a pre-court mediation.

The majority of cases are resolved through out-of-court mediation. Here, your lawyer will negotiate on your behalf to secure the best possible outcome. In rare instances where mediation fails to resolve your case, your lawyer will explore alternative legal strategies with you.

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How we can help you

For over 25 years, we’ve helped Australians like you win dust disease claims.
Our lawyers know the ins and outs of each state’s specific dust disease legislation, so we can fast-track your case and get you compensated sooner.

We use proven legal strategies and a nationwide network of experts to build a strong, evidence-based case. Medical evidence and expert reports are crucial to establish exposure and determine liability, ensuring you receive the compensation you deserve.

Plus, with our No Win No Fee guarantee, your claim is completely risk-free. We cover all upfront costs, and there’s nothing to pay unless we secure your compensation.

Contact us today for a free consultation on your dust disease claim.

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