Former Mackay resident Byron May. Picture: supplied
Former Mackay resident Byron May. Picture: supplied

Former Mackay rail worker with asbestosis sues for $865k

For former Mackay rail worker Byron May, even the simple task of breathing or walking up a flight of stairs can be a struggle.

But the man who will spend the rest of his life gasping for air has enough fight left in him for one last battle.

Mr May, 75, is suing his former employer for $865,000 in an effort to ensure some comfort in his final days as he battles deadly asbestosis.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has filed a statement of claim in the Supreme Court of Queensland on Mr May's behalf against Aurizon - formerly known as QR National.

Mr May worked for Queensland Rail for more than 30 years in Cairns and Mackay where he alleges he was exposed to asbestos and has now developed asbestosis.

The Daily Mercury contacted Aurizon for comment, but was told it does not comment on matters before the court.

Asbestosis is long-term inflammation and scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos fibres.

Its symptoms can include shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, and chest tightness.

Mr May alleges that while working for QR, he handled products containing asbestos and worked in the vicinity of tradesman demolishing old buildings made from asbestos fibro sheeting.

Court documents stated the father of one was exposed to "an environment that was generally contaminated with respirable asbestos dust and fibre".

He alleges the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibre during the course of his employment with QR and QR's previous entities caused him to contract asbestosis.

An Aurizon coal train. Picture: Kevin Farmer
An Aurizon coal train. Picture: Kevin Farmer

Mr May further alleges the disease will continue to cause him pain and suffering, require him to have ongoing medical treatment and will shorten his life expectancy.

The Rockhampton resident is suing for $865,000 to cover damages, future medical expenses and future care.

Mr May said his disease had caused him to stress about his future, admitting "some days aren't so good".

"Everyone is scared of dying I suppose … There's nothing I can take to help it," he said.

"When you live by yourself, you've got plenty of time to think about these things and what's going to happen."

While Mr May can still live independently at the moment, he often feels breathless and can no longer walk up a flight of stairs.

His only son calls every few days to check up on him.

"I used to love fishing, now I can't climb up the rocks anymore," Mr May said.

"I just live day-to-day - that's all I can do."

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Maurice Blackburn principal lawyer Jonathan Walsh said he anticipated more cases like this in the future because of Australia's high use of asbestos products between the 1940s and 1980s.

"In Australia, we have the dubious honour of being the highest consumer of asbestos products anywhere in the world per capita," Mr Walsh said.

"Unfortunately, given the latency period of exposure and development of the disease, we are now seeing increasing rates of diagnosis of various types of asbestos-related disease.

"The legacy of this disease in Australia is only going to continue given how much of the product we consumed for so long."

The latency period between the time of exposure to asbestos and the development of asbestosis can take at least 20 years.

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