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Families of NSW asbestos victims missing out on compensation, advocates urge law change
Thursday, 22nd January 2015

James Hardie
Asbestos awareness groups say the families of asbestos victims need more time to seek compensation because some sufferers are dying before they get a chance to start legal proceedings.

Under current laws, unless a victim initiates legal proceedings while they are still alive, their families may be entitled to nothing.

Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia president Barry Robson said families are often too busy caring for their loved ones to think about their legal affairs.

"For mesothelioma ... on average, [the time] from diagnosis to death is 155 days. That's not a lot of time to get your head around a death sentence," Mr Robson said.

He said families who have lost a loved one face added distress when they learn they have missed the compensation deadline.

"It's just another kick in the guts," he said.

Asbestos compensation lawyer Tanya Segelov, from law firm Turner Freeman, said some victims do not even know they have an asbestos-related disease.

"Sometimes people aren't diagnosed until autopsy," she said.

The Asbestos Diseases Foundation is also seeking changes to a law which reduces the amount of compensation victims' families can claim.

Sydney widow Catherine O'Farrell was entitled to compensation following the death of her husband Bob Wallin in 2008.

However, under a legal principle known as Strikwerda, her payout was reduced because her late husband had already received compensation for his suffering.

She said she was left with hefty debts and a daughter to support.

"It was a very hard slog and I just don't feel that any family should have to go through that," she said.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said New South Wales should follow the lead of other states and change the law.

"It's a damning indictment on politicians here in NSW that we haven't remedied the law. It's just such an obvious injustice," he said.

"The path to decency has been mapped out by every other state and territory."

The Government has indicated it will not accept legal changes that put pressure on the asbestos compensation scheme, which it says has "viability issues".

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Brad Hazzard said the Government "will do all it can to ensure the scheme's ongoing capacity and in that context will consider any changes that assist the scheme".

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