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By Tess Dickie, Senior Associate, Asbestos and Dust Diseases department

As lives continue to be affected by COVID-19 around the world, some people may be more vulnerable to its effects than others. One such group is sufferers of asbestos-related disease, including conditions such as asbestos-related pleural disease, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Exposure to hazardous dusts including asbestos, whether at work or in a domestic setting, can cause severe lung disease. Many former industrial workers, exposed to asbestos in their employment years ago, now face serious asbestos-related diseases.

Domestic exposure to asbestos is becoming an increasingly common cause of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer. In a survey conducted by The Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (AIHW), more people are being diagnosed as a result of domestic renovation exposure, with 21 per cent of those surveyed reporting non-occupational exposure to asbestos, and 63.8 per cent reporting both occupational and non-occupational exposure to asbestos.

The ever-emerging evidence around COVID-19 suggests that those who suffer from respiratory conditions are at a greater risk of complications from COVID-19, which is why those suffering from, or working in industries who are at increased risk of lung disease need to take particular care.

Why are sufferers of asbestos-related disease and work-related lung disease most vulnerable to COVID-19?

A diagnosis of lung disease, especially mesothelioma or an asbestos-related disease, can be devastating under ordinary circumstances. Being diagnosed with, or already suffering from, one of these conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic poses additional risks.

COVID-19 can cause breathlessness and pneumonia. Sufferers of respiratory illness are at higher risk of serious illness or even death if they contract COVID-19 as they already have poor lung health and in some cases, a compromised immune system.

How can you seek help?

If you are a sufferer of asbestos-related disease or work-related lung disease, you may have an entitlement to compensation if you have a history of exposure to asbestos or other hazardous dusts.

Some of the symptoms of these conditions are similar to COVID-19, which can be confusing or worrying. If you notice any change or increase in your symptoms, particularly the development of any symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19, please seek urgent medical advice.

If you are in this vulnerable group and have been exposed to a person infected with COVID-19, suspect you have contracted COVID-19 or are a confirmed case of COVID-19, in addition to seeking urgent medical attention, you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible about whether you have a potential compensation claim and any steps that need to be taken to urgently protect your potential right to compensation and/or expedite your claim.

Speak to your healthcare providers about arrangements that are in place to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19 whilst being treated or monitored for your asbestos-related disease or work-related lung disease, and ask whether your healthcare provider can offer telehealth consultations or safely defer appointments.

Ensure that anyone providing in-home care adheres to strict social distancing and hygiene practices and wears a mask and gloves when in your home, and speak to your local pharmacy about whether medications can be delivered.

If you have a smartphone, you should consider downloading the Australian Government’s new COVIDSafe app, which helps to speed up contact tracing if you unknowingly come into close contact with an infected case. It’s important to remember that whilst downloading the app is encouraged, it is completely voluntary.

What are the legal options for sufferers of asbestos-related disease?

If you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease under any circumstances, it is important to seek legal advice quickly – some asbestos diseases are associated with a short prognosis.

In a lot of asbestos cases, pain and suffering damages are the largest component of a compensation claim. Provided your case is issued within your lifetime, your entitlement to pain and suffering damages is protected for the benefit of those left behind.

To protect your case, your lawyer needs to:

  • Talk to you about your exposure history
  • Figure out who the right defendants are in your case
  • Issue proceedings to ensure your case is protected

Different states have different time limits in which to bring claims. This is a very specialised area of the law. It is critical you obtain advice from a lawyer with extensive experience in the area.

If you contract COVID-19, it is critical that you instruct lawyers to issue court proceedings on your behalf in your lifetime to protect your compensation entitlements for your family. If this is not done and you pass away, your claim may no longer be viable. This is a straightforward procedure that can be done over the phone.

Once instructions are taken, Gordon Legal can lodge the requisite proceedings quickly, and the claim can be ‘paused’ for up to 12 months, allowing you to prioritise your health with the peace of mind that your claim is protected. If there is an imminent risk of death, we can ask the Court to fast-track the case.

What to do if this information applies to you

At Gordon Legal, we understand that asbestos-related diseases are a personal issue.

For personalised and individual advice, we offer consultations to discuss your matter.

Please call Gordon Legal (Melbourne) on 1800 21 22 23 or our Geelong office on (03) 5225 1600 to speak with a member of our team.

Given the current environment, we are providing consultations over the phone, Zoom, WebEx or Skype.

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