Sick ex-stonemason Vilisunia Fakalata wins record silicosis payout from five former employers

A former stonemason who was diagnosed with an incurable lung disease after inhaling silica dust for more than 20 years has been awarded one of the highest payouts in Victorian history after he took five of his employers to court.

Vilisunia Fakalata used to run 10km after work but is now short of breath walking up stairs. For more than 20 years he worked as a stonemason, mostly cutting, grinding and polishing engineered stone, a popular product often found in kitchen bench tops in Australian homes.

But in 2019, the 44-year-old was diagnosed with silicosis, an incurable and progressive lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust which is released into the air when the product is cut.

Arnold Thomas & Becker Managing Partner, Lee Flanagan, whose firm represented Mr Fakalata, said the settlement provided some justice for their client’s suffering and loss of earnings.

“Unfortunately, most stonemasons may not have been sufficiently warned by employers or manufacturers about the risk for silicosis, meaning they did not know they needed protective equipment to prevent the disease,” he said.

“We now know that there are clear links with a rise of silicosis in tradespeople and this knowledge has led to most Australian states and territories banning engineered stone.”

Last month, state and federal ministers agreed to ban engineered stone in the majority of jurisdictions this year.

Arnold Thomas & Becker lawyer Maxine Radwan said “the health and wellbeing of workers is paramount. We welcome the ban on engineered stone and are pleased that we were able to provide our client with a settlement that enables him to focus on receiving the support, medical needed.”

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