Dust Diseases Tribunal (the DDT)
The Dust Diseases Tribunal (“the DDT”) was established in 1989 to hear and determine common law claims for victims of dust related diseases. Most of the work of the DDT involves hearing and determining claims for compensation for asbestos related diseases.
The DDT was established to ensure that as many asbestos disease compensation claims were completed in the victim’s lifetime as possible. A victim who is very ill can make an application to the DDT for the hearing of their claim to be expedited. Evidence used in prior cases can be used to help prove the claim. Very urgent cases can be dealt with in a time frame of a few weeks to a few months.
If the victim has a benign asbestos related disease such as asbestosis or asbestos related pleural disease then the claim can be made on a “provisional” compensation basis so that compensation can be obtained for the condition the victim presently has with the right to make a further claim in the event that victim develops another kind of asbestos related disease being reserved at some time in the future.
In some cases, the victim dies before the proceedings can be completed. As long as the claim is filed in the DDT in the victim’s lifetime then compensation for pain and suffering (called general damages) survives the victim’s death for the benefit of the victim’s spouse or family.
Claims for asbestos related disease are subject to special regulations introduced in 2005 called the “claims resolution process”. The purpose of the claims resolution process is to ensure the early exchange of information concerning a claim. The victim provides information concerning his or her general health, work history, exposure to asbestos, treatment the victim has had for asbestos related disease and details of the compensation claimed in a document verified by statutory declaration called a statement of particulars. The other party to the claim provides information about those aspects of the claim that are accepted or disputed in a document that is called a reply. At the end of this exchange of information, the parties to the claim attend a compulsory mediation. Most claims settle at or shortly following the compulsory mediation.
For a mesothelioma claim or lung cancer claim, the mediation generally occurs within 9 to 12 weeks of the provision of the statement of particulars. If the claim does not settle at mediation, it is listed before a Judge of the DDT immediately and a hearing date appointed. If the claim is very urgent, then a Judge of the DDT can remove the claim from the claims resolution process and deal with it on an urgent basis.
In a claim for asbestosis (unless it is severe) or asbestos related pleural disease or any other non-urgent claim, mediation must occur within 12 to 16 weeks of the statement of particulars being served. If the claim does not settle at mediation, it is listed before a Judge of the DDT immediately and a hearing date appointed.
Compensation payable to victims of asbestos related disease include compensation for pain and suffering, reduction in life expectancy and voluntary care and assistance provided by the victim’s spouse or family members. The amount of compensation payable to victims of asbestos related diseases varies from case to case. In particular, compensation payable to victims of benign asbestos related disease (such as asbestosis and asbestos related pleural disease) vary greatly. Compensation payments in these cases can vary from $80,000.00 after costs to several hundred thousand dollars after costs, depending on the circumstances of the individual case.
Compensation payments for mesothelioma or lung cancer victims can also vary. However, most cases result in payment to the victim of between $300,000 to $400,000 after the payment of all costs. That can change if there are special circumstances. For example, if there is a claim for wage loss or a claim for the loss of capacity to care for a disabled relative. In those cases, the compensation payment can be significantly higher.
Victims who make a claim in the DDT and who were exposed to asbestos during the course of employment in NSW cannot claim compensation for medical and related expenses. That is because those expenses are covered by the DDA. However, the victim is entitled to claim for the voluntary help provided to him by family members as a consequence of his asbestos related diseases.
It is not a question of choosing between making a claim on the DDA or through the DDT. Workers can and should make both claims.