Miners with surface only exposure to dust were not covered by the 1998 High Court Respiratory Disease Judgment and not included under the Claims Handling Agreement (CHA). The Department's position has been that the levels of respirable dust (rather than visible dust) in surface jobs was not sufficient to cause lung disease. Despite the Department's position on these cases, I recognise there has been a long-standing campaign to seek compensation for surface workers. In an attempt to settle this issue, four “test” cases were to be brought before the court for determination in November 2009.
I can now report that at a pre-trial court hearing on 9 October 2009, the solicitors acting for the four selected claimants conceded the litigation on all four cases and costs were awarded to the Department. When advising the court of the position, the claimants' counsel said
“in the light of the expert evidence in each case, the court was likely to make findings in relation to dust exposure that would make it difficult for any of these four claimants to establish any significant injury.”
On this basis, no case for compensation has been established in respect of surface workers with surface only exposure.
However, due to the Department's diligence, I can report that c.650 claims previously identified as Coal Preparation Plant only claims by their solicitors were found to be able to be compensated as “mixed workers” under the CHA and these are now being processed. Additionally, another c.200 claims are now having their underground only employment assessed and settled.
Under a Court Order agreed in December 2009, and not opposed by the claimant's solicitors, all remaining surface only claims are now in the “strike out” process for mid February 2010.