Asbestos diseases: rights for New Zealand citizens

In 2018, Diane brought a claim against the manufacturer of the asbestos “fibro” sheets which she was exposed to as a teenager when her late father undertook renovations to the family home.  However, despite her case being one of the first of its kind in New Zealand, it is not unusual; thousands of similar cases have been won in other countries from negligent asbestos exposure.

What is asbestos?

A naturally-occurring mineral made up of many small fibres, asbestos was popular due to its strength and resistance to heat, wear and chemicals. It was mainly used in many types of building sheeting and cladding, insulation, vehicle brakes, textiles and even in some home appliance accessories, such as oven gloves and in ironing boards.

For many years, thousands of products in domestic and commercial buildings contained asbestos.

For many decades, the health risks of asbestos became well known by manufacturers but it was not until the early to mid-1980s that it was no longer put in these products.  However, many traces of asbestos still exist in products around the home, particularly in dwellings built before 1985.  

What are the health risks?

Breaking, damaging or even handling asbestos materials causes the small fibres to become airborne. These fibres are then easily inhaled and get lodged in airways and lungs.

Asbestos has been known to cause a number of illnesses, including:

  • Asbestosis – a chronic scarring and hardening of the lungs
  • Lung cancer – even in those who have smoked
  • Mesothelioma – an aggressive terminal cancer of the lining of the lung or stomach

Some asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, can take more than 50 years to develop.

Diane’s story

Diane developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos as a child when her late father undertook renovations to the family home. 

Her late father, purchased 20 fibro sheets from the local hardware store and brought them home where he cut and installed them on the extra bedroom.  Diane held down the sheets as her dad cut them and held up in place as he nailed them into place.  She also helped clean up afterwards. 

Maurice Blackburn Principal Jonathan Walsh, who has represented many clients like Diane in New Zealand, said although this type of claim was new to New Zealand courts, hundreds of claims had been successful in Australia.

"People like Diane who suffered from asbestos exposure outside of work, such as during home renovations or even washing contaminated work clothes, may not be aware these avenues exist.”

What happens if I’ve been exposed?

 In New Zealand, there are two compensation avenues that can assist you if you’ve been exposed to asbestos and have developed an asbestos disease. The schemes are:

  • A statutory scheme: if you’ve been exposed to asbestos at work, you can only claim lump sum entitlements with the ACC
  • A common law claim: if you’ve been exposed to asbestos outside of work in negligent circumstances, you may be able to bring a common law claim in the court

You must bring a claim during your lifetime and time limits apply. For example, you only have six months from the date of diagnosis to make a statutory ACC claim, although sometimes this timeframe can be extended if there are appropriate reasons.

Next steps

Speak to a lawyer quickly if you’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. We can help determine where your asbestos exposure is likely to have come from and identify who might have been negligent.

It won’t cost you a cent to find out where you stand, and our team can travel to your home to meet with you to discuss your rights and entitlements. In most cases, we will act on a no win, no fee* basis.

*conditions apply.

RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Asbestos diseases

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Jonathan Walsh

Maurice Blackburn Brisbane
Jonathan Walsh is a Principal and the Queensland practice group leader for asbestos law and dust diseases, based in Maurice Blackburn’s Brisbane office. Jonathan is also a Law Society of NSW Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury (Dust Diseases). This additional qualification stands him head and ...

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