16 May 2019

Family continues fight for asbestos cancer sufferer

6:37 pm on 16 May 2019

Family and friends of a woman who died after being exposed to asbestos on her father's clothing went to the High Court in Wellington today to continue her battle for ACC cover.

Deanna Trevarthen

Deanna Trevarthen, who contracted mesothelioma, died in 2016. Photo: Supplied

Deanna Trevarthen, who died in 2016 at the age of 45, was one of New Zealand's youngest sufferers of mesothelioma, or asbestos-related lung cancer.

However, ACC says cover for the illness is only available for people who inhale asbestos at work, not in other circumstances.

Ms Trevarthen's claim had earlier been turned down by an ACC reviewer and a District Court judge.

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

A family photo taken when Deanna Trevarthen was a child. Photo: Supplied

Ms Trevarthen's father worked as an electrician and she was exposed to asbestos as a child, when he came home after work and hugged her and played with her. She also sometimes visited building sites where the toxic material was present.

Her family's lawyer, Beatrix Woodhouse told Justice Mallon that if ACC had covered Ms Trevarthen it could have helped her live longer.

"One advantage of ACC cover is treatment such as Keytruda and ... the effect of this treatment is it can extend one's life. Therefore, ACC cover potentially equates to prolonging one's life."

Ms Woodhouse told the court mesothelioma almost exclusively arises from inhalation of asbestos and the question was could Ms Trevarthen's exposure to it be classed as an accident under the ACC legislation.

She said Ms Trevarthen had actually suffered two physical injuries, the first when the asbestos lodged in her lung and the second with the cancer which arose from that.

She presented evidence from Doctor Glen Reid, a leading researcher into asbestos, who described its fibres as having a needle-like structure, which worked their way through the lungs.

"This needle-like structure prevents them from being cleared out. He notes the fibres can cause both direct and indirect damage to the cells, such as causing necrotic cell death.

"In summary, it's evident that these fibres have profound detrimental effects on the lung cells."

However, ACC's lawyer, Paul Radich QC said the legislation the scheme operated under provided that only work-related diseases were covered with some exceptions.

He said an accident had to be a specific event or series of events and there was insufficient evidence before the Court about exactly how the asbestos entered Ms Trevarthen's lungs.

"We say here we're dealing with inhalation over a period of time, possibly by being near to MsTrevarthen's father, possibly by hugging him, possibly by going to work sites he attended.

"There is no specific inhalation, no specific event."

Outside the court, Ms Trevarthen's mother, Clare Trevarthen said her daughter's inhalation of asbestos was certainly accidental.

"It's been a terrible shame; a girl so full of life would never have wanted this and it's in fairness to anyone else who might eventually suffer from it that we fight on."

Justice Mallon reserved her decision.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs