Patients suffering from asbestos-related disease in the Australian state of Victoria have obtained the right to receive compensation for multiple illnesses, following the release of new legislation aimed at “catching up” Victoria to other Australian states, which permit multiple filings. Currently in Victoria, asbestos sufferers may only file for compensation one time – meaning that if another asbestos-related illness develops later in life, the individual sufferer is out of luck. For example, a miner who developed asbestosis and filed for compensation, and then years later was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, would not be able to recover damages related to the mesothelioma, under the existing law. The new legislation will change that.
Victoria State premier John Brumby said that Victoria had lagged behind the other Australian states in protecting the rights of asbestos-related disease victims, and that the legal system needs to take into account the potential for multiple diseases in one victim. Asbestos was banned in Victoria in 2003, but the substance can cause disease in those exposed many years or even decades after the initial exposure. The legislation, known as the “Bernie Banton Law”, after a noted Australian asbestos rights campaigner, is expected to help about 50 people each year. Most of the costs will be met through WorkCover, Australia’s statutory body that handles worker’s compensation claims and other job-related illness expenditures. The law will cost approximately $85 million over the next 20 to 40 years, as asbestos sufferers develop new diseases with the passage of time. Karen Banton, Bernie Banton’s widow, stated that her late husband would have been deeply honored to be associated with the legislation, saying “The uncertainty that these Victorian families have suffered up until this point, the dilemma of whether I claim and whether I wait … it would be a terrible choice to have to make.”