1 Jun 2017

Family continues legal fight after hugs blamed for cancer death

5:59 pm on 1 June 2017

The family of one of the youngest people in New Zealand to die of a rare asbestos-related cancer is continuing her court battle, saying she was exposed to it through her father's work.

Deanna Trevarthen

Deanna Trevarthen died in December, aged 45, from mesothelioma. Photo: Supplied

Deanna Trevarthen died in December, aged 45, from mesothelioma - a cancer which usually affects the lungs and has been linked to exposure to asbestos dust.

Her father was an electrician, and the family said she was exposed as a child to toxic asbestos dust on his clothes when she gave him hugs when he came home from work.

Ms Trevathen's family said she would also often accompany him to jobs in the holidays.

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) said it could not comment while the matter was before the court.

Ms Trevarthen was diagnosed with the cancer in 2015 and responded well initially to chemotherapy.

When that stopped working, in January last year, her family fund-raised through Givealittle so she could access the cancer treatment drug Keytruda.

That, too, stopped working last October and she died early in December.

Her sister-in-law, Angela Calver, said following the initial diagnosis the family were advised to put in a claim because most mesothelioma cases arose from workplace exposure to asbestos and were covered by ACC.

However, she said Ms Trevarthen's only link with asbestos was through her father's job as an electrician.

Ms Calver said Ms Trevarthen regularly accompanied her father to jobs on buildings sites in the school holidays.

"She would play with the off-cuts. She would help him clean up, you know, stuff like that - as you do as a little kid."

Deanna Trevarthen when she was a child, right, with her family.

Deanna Trevarthen when she was a child, right, with her family. Photo: Supplied

The family's lawyer, Beatrix Woodhouse, said it was clear Ms Trevarthen could not claim under ACC's work-related provisions, as the asbestos exposure occurred when she was quite young.

She said about 95 percent of mesothelioma cases arose from inhaling asbestos fibres and the court would consider whether Ms Trevarthen could have claimed compensation as a result of accidental inhalation.

"The parties are in consensus that there was inhalation of asbestos at some point. It's just working out whether this inhalation will satisfy the provision of the act that we're bringing the case forward under."

Ms Calver said Ms Trevarthen's father would have been covered by ACC if he had developed mesothelioma and they just wanted the same coverage extended to her.

She points out ACC was set up to be a no-fault insurer.

"So do your job. Be our no-fault insurer. It was no fault of Deanna's that she swallowed these things.

"It wasn't known back then just how dangerous it was and part of the reason that ACC was formed was to stop the lottery effect and the suing like happens in the US."

A hearing is likely to take place later this year.

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