Dust disease claims not covered by PIPA regime
In the recent Queensland decision of Coleman v Caesarstone Australia Pty Ltd & Ors  QSC 125, an applicant successfully obtained a declaration that the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 (Qld) (PIPA) did not apply to his secondary psychiatric injury caused by his dust-related condition.
The applicant, James Coleman, is a 35-year old man previously employed as a stonemason. He alleged he sustained injuries as a result of occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust during the course of his employment from approximately 2005 to October 2018.
The applicant’s primary injury is accelerated silicosis. He was subsequently diagnosed with a moderately severe adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood, caused by and secondary to the diagnosis of accelerated silicosis.
As a consequence of his accelerated silicosis, the applicant’s life expectancy has been significantly reduced. His thoracic physician is of the view that, within four to five years, the applicant will need to be considered for a lung transplant, which, if successful, would see him have a life expectancy of six to eight years from thereon.
In order to obtain a speedier resolution of his claim, the applicant applied for a declaration that PIPA does not apply to any claim for damages caused by his injuries of accelerated silicosis and adjustment disorder.
An express reading of PIPA confirms that any “dust-related condition” is exempt under the PIPA process.
Section 6(3)(b) expressly declares that the process does not apply to “personal injury that is a dust-related condition”; however, it has previously been assumed that this exclusion does not extend to include a psychiatric injury that is secondary to, and caused by, a “dust-related condition”.
The term “dust-related condition” is defined in schedule 1 of PIPA to mean any of a number of named diseases, one of which is silicosis or “any other pathological condition of the lungs, pleura or peritoneum that is attributable to dust”. Accelerated silicosis is a personal injury that is a dust-related condition, as defined. Therefore, PIPA does not apply to that injury.
In this application, the question for the Court was whether or not a psychiatric injury which is secondary to, and caused by, a “dust-related condition”, such as the applicant’s adjustment disorder, also falls within the exclusion under s 6(3)(b) of the PIPA – as a “personal injury that is a dust-related condition”.
Justice Bowskill identified that the clear purpose of the exemption provided for in s 6(3)(b) of PIPA was to “effectively exempt sufferers of dust related diseases from key procedural requirements in the legislation”, in order to ensure, as far as possible, that they were not hampered in their ability to obtain an early hearing and resolution of their claims. This was particularly important because of the significant reduction in life-expectancy for sufferers of these deadly diseases.
A literal interpretation of the words used in s 6(3)(b), in that, it would require a person claiming for a dust-related condition to comply with the procedural requirements of the legislation for a causally related personal injury that is not itself a “dust-related condition”, would defeat the object of that provision, rather than carry it into effect.
Her Honour found that a construction which 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, will promote the purpose of the legislation.
Her Honour was therefore satisfied that on its proper construction, s 6(3)(b) of PIPA should be read as though it provided that “this Act does not apply to – (b) personal injury that is or results from a dust-related condition”.
This case confirmed a commonsense approach to circumstances where a secondary psychiatric injury that arises from an applicant’s dust-related condition would be exempt from the PIPA process, as is intended.