Silicosis is an inflammation and scarring of the lung causing nodular lesions as a result of exposure to silica (sand).
Sufferers of silicosis include jackhammer and jackpick operators and foundry workers. Increasingly, stonemasons working with engineering stone to make bathroom and kitchen counters are being diagnosed with silicosis. Silicosis may progress to progressive massive fibrosis whereby the nodules coalesce.
Common Law Claim For Damages
If you are suffering from silicosis or progressive massive fibrosis then you can bring a claim at common law. In New South Wales common law claims for silicosis are brought in the Dust Diseases Tribunal (DDT). The DDT is a specialist court that was established in 1989 to hear claims for persons suffering from diseases such as silicosis. The Court has special procedures and rules of evidence to expedite claims. A claim for a person suffering from silicosis usually takes between 6 to 12 months to finalise. Claims can run quicker if necessary.
Most claims are brought against former employers, head contractors or occupiers of sites where excavation work was carried out. If your former employer no longer exists, you can still sue if you can determine the workers’ compensation insurer of the business. Silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis are “divisible” injuries. This means in order to recover all of your damages you must sue in relation to all of your exposure to silica. We will sit with you at your home, in hospital or at our offices and take a detailed history in relation to your work and exposure to silica to determine who you should sue.
If you are successful in your claim you will be awarded lump sum compensation to compensate you for your pain and suffering, loss of expectation of life, medical and other expenses (if you are not covered by the Dust Diseases Authority- see below), the commercial cost of gratuitous care provided by your friends and family, loss of earnings and superannuation if you were working at the time you experienced symptoms and in some cases the commercial cost of replacing services you provided to others such as young children or a sick or elderly child, spouse or parent. The amount of monies awarded will depend on the circumstances of your claim including your age, the period of time you have suffered disability, your level of disability and your prognosis.
Persons suffering from silicosis can claim provisional damages. This means a claim is brought for the conditions you are now suffering from and you reserve the right to bring a further claim in the future if you contract a new silica disease such as lung cancer.
In silicosis claims we act on a full no win no fee basis which means we will not be paid unless you win your claim. More information about our fees is set out on our fee policy page.
Dust Diseases Authority (DDA)
If you were exposed to silica as a worker in New South Wales and you develop silicosis or progressive massive fibrosis you may also have a right to claim a pension and have all your medical, hospital, pharmaceutical, nursing and nursing aids and equipment costs paid. The DDA will also pay for travel expenses and assistance required around your home and garden.
An application to the DDA is in addition to your common law claim. You can (and most people do) both, although where there is a DDA award you cannot claim in your court proceedings for out of pocket expenses which will be covered by the DDA.
An application to the DDA is an administrative process. You complete an application form and sign authorities to allow the DDA to obtain access to your medical records. The DDA will arrange for you to undergo a medical examination including an x-ray and lung function test. The results of your examination will be placed before a Medical Panel which consists of 3 respiratory physicians. If the medical panel believes you are suffering from silicosis it will request an industrial history be obtained. This process involves you being contacted by an industrial history officer who will take a work history and discuss your exposure to silica. You will be then sent an industrial history statement to proof and sign. Your industrial history will be placed with the Medical Panel who will then determine your level of disability. If the Medical Panel certifies you are suffering from silicosis causing a disability the CEO will grant you a fortnightly pension. The pension is not means tested. The amount of your pension will depend on your level of disability. The DDA will continue to monitor your condition and organise for you to be re-examined every 1 to 3 years. If your level of disability increases, then your pension will also increase. It generally takes 6 to 12 weeks for your application to be processed.
In addition to your rights with the DDA, if you die as a result of your condition of silicosis a dependant partner or child has rights to a lump sum payment (the amount of the lump sum depends on the level of dependency) and an ongoing pension. Your estate can also claim funeral expenses up to $9,000.00.
We can assist you to complete a DDA application form and guide you through the application process.
Other Dust Diseases
Exposure to dusts can cause a wide variety of diseases including pneumoconiosis and occupational asthma. If you have developed an occupational lung disease you may have rights to claim at common law and for statutory benefits with the Dust Diseases Authority. We will sit with you and take a detailed work history. We will then obtain your medical records and if necessary organise an appointment with a medical specialist before giving you advice on your rights to make a claim.