James Hardie, the company responsible for the production of many asbestos cement building products in Australia, has seen an unexpected increase in asbestos compensation claims in Australia over the past year. Exposure to asbestos fibres is known to cause life-threatening diseases such as malignant lung cancers, asbestosis and mesothelioma. Compensation for such diseases is available throughout Australia.
This financial year, the average claim settlement in Australia for James Hardie victims was $231,000. This $12,000 increase is largely a result of an increase in mesothelioma claims in Australia, from 456 to 542 claims over 12 months.
James Hardie is now expected to pay $117 million extra to a special victims’ fund. This brings the company’s asbestos liability to approximately $1.7 billion.
Mining giant BHP Billiton could be liable for punitive damages in other cases following the South Australian Supreme Court ruling in June 2012 that the company exposed certain workers to asbestos knowing of the health risks.
The decision upheld last year’s Adelaide District Court ruling, which awarded 82-year-old asbestosis sufferer William Parker $52,124.93 – plus $20,000 in punitive damages – for working in BHP’s Whyalla shipyards between 1971 and 1972.
The landmark victory is the first successful case (on appeal) under the South Australian Dust Diseases Act to award punitive damages against a company for ignoring the health hazards of asbestos exposure, (such as mesothelioma).
The majority of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia handed its decision down on Monday, saying that the risk to Mr Parker’s health was “foreseeable” and that BHP had failed to take reasonable steps in order to protect him, such as testing for asbestos or providing workers with protective marks and equipment.
The judgment stated that Mr Parker’s asbestosis was a result of “the systemic failure by BHP to make its workplace safe… by 1971 it was known that some exposure to asbestos could result in conditions which were incurable, irreversible and possibly fatal.”
The finding is expected to impact other South Australian asbestos compensation claims that are currently before the Courts, and possibly those in other Australian states such as New South Wales and Victoria, as well as future claims.
A number of years ago, the South Australian parliament enacted legislation to assist South Australia asbestos compensation claims. Since this time, many claims for asbestosis compensation and mesothelioma compensation have been made.
Experts predict an influx of asbestos-related compensation claims after an ‘unusual’ recent court decision in north Queensland, Australia.
Rod Fraser has been awarded an undisclosed compensation amount by WorkCover Queensland after his brother Andrew died from mesothelioma followiong exposure to asbestos while working at the Prosperine Sugar Mill, Queensland, for six months in 1982.
Queensland Industrial Magistrates Court ruled that Mr Fraser and his wife and children were financially supported by his late brother, a finding that has been deemed ‘unusual’ by the plaintiff’s lawyer, as brothers are not usually deemed to be dependents.
The sugar industry is seeing an increasing number of people claiming mesothelioma compensation for exposure to asbestos, a dangerous substance that was often used as an insulator in sugar mills until the 1980s.
This is because the usual latency period between when someone is exposed to asbestos and diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma can be as high as 40 years. As a result, the number of asbestos sufferers is expected to peak in around 2025.
Cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related compensation have been brought in all Australian states including New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.
Mesothelioma compensation in New South Wales was dealt a blow on 14 May 2012 when the NSW Government refused to adopt the recommendations of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission.
The Commission had recommended the removal of a defence that allowed Defendants such as James Hardie to off set or reduce asbestos compensation payments to widows in dependency claims.
Further, the Commission had recommended pain and suffering compensation survive if asbestos court proceedings were commenced within 12 months of a person dying from an asbestos condition such as mesothelioma.
Asbestos and mesothelioma compensation claims in South Australia, and asbestos and mesothelioma compensation claims in Victoria, do not allow a Defendant to put up the Defence to a claim that results in an offset to a dependency asbestos claim.
It is hoped the New South Wales Government will sit down with representatives of James Hardie to try and nut out a new deal to ensure asbestos compensation reforms are made to assist those affected by asbestos conditions.