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Clarity of process now achieved for dust disease claims

11 June 2021
The recent Supreme Court of Queensland decision, Coleman v Caesarstone Australia Pty Ltd & Ors [2021] QSC 125, makes it clear that claimants in dust diseases claims do not have to comply with the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2003 (PIPA) when advancing a claim for a secondary psychological injury. 

PIPA outlines pre-court procedures that need to be complied with before a party can litigate against a tortfeasor. Importantly, claims for dust diseases have been excluded from the operation of this legislation meaning that claimants can immediately institute court proceedings against tortfeasors (say, suppliers of manufactured stone products) without having to comply with these pre-court procedures.

The case before the Court concerned a claimant, Mr Coleman, who was diagnosed with accelerated silicosis as a consequence of exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust during his work as a stonemason. Secondary to his silicosis diagnosis, Mr Coleman developed a moderately severe adjustment disorder, that is, a diagnosed psychiatric condition. This is not uncommon particularly in circumstances where silicosis is a serious condition which, in the most severe cases, is terminal. 

Mr Coleman intended to bring a personal injury litigated claim against various suppliers and manufacturers of engineered stone products. He sought a declaration to the Court that PIPA did not apply to the secondary psychological claim, meaning that he could institute proceedings as a matter of right. 

The Court was therefore asked to determine whether the pre-court procedures under PIPA applied to a secondary psychological injury, secondary to the primary silicosis (dust condition). The decision of Her Honour Justice Bowskill was that the intention of the Queensland legislature was that claimants with dust diseases claims were not required to comply with PIPA and hence for secondary psychological injury claims, there is no requirement to comply with the relevant pre-court procedures. 

Her Honour recognised that a contrary outcome would defeat the outcome of the dust diseases exemption noting that "a construction with extends the operation of the exemption not only to personal injury which is a dust related condition but also to personal injury which results from a dust related condition would promote the purpose of the legislation". 

This decision provides necessary clarity. Claimants with personal injury claims for dust diseases who suffer secondary psychological conditions can now simply pursue suppliers through litigation as a matter of right. There is no requirement for them to comply with the pre-court procedures mandated by PIPA. 

Although litigation can be commenced against suppliers and manufacturers of engineered stone products, these proceedings are inevitably stayed until pre-court procedures are complied with in the claim against various employers. The claim against employers is governed by the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003, which provides for a mandated pre-court procedure process against employers. 

This decision is welcomed – it provides clarity for claimants and defendants and is consistent with the purpose of the legislation. It is also worth noting that this decision has wide application in Queensland in circumstances where, following extensive health screening, a significant number of Queensland workers have been diagnosed with silicosis, including sadly a number of workers who have been diagnosed with progressive massive fibrosis which is the most severe silicosis condition.

Coleman v Caesarstone Australia Pty Ltd & Ors [2021] QSC 125

If you require further information or have any queries in relation to this legal update, please contact Damian van Brunschot.

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