Legal victory for victim of James Hardie asbestos products

The first award of exemplary damages against James Hardie, in recognition of the reckless indifference the company showed to the lives of customers, has set a legal precedent.


The judicial decision may benefit thousands of current and future James Hardie asbestos victims, according to the Asbestos Victims Association (AVA) SA.


AVA SA vice president Kat Burge said the decision handed down on 26 May 2017 by the South Australian District Court, which included the largest compensation payout awarded to an asbestos victim in the state, was a significant win for everyone exposed to asbestos by James Hardie.


“To have a judge not only award a record compensation payout, but for the first time to include exemplary damages, sends a significant message,” Ms Burge said.


“To have the courts say clearly that not only did James Hardie continue to sell products that they knew could kill people, but that this reckless disregard for human life was motivated by their ‘thirst for profit’ confirms the extent of their appalling corporate behaviour.”


District Court Judge Brian Gilchrist ordered Amaca Pty Ltd, formerly known as James Hardie & Co Pty Ltd, to pay a total of $1.062 million in compensation to 70-year-old Stonyfell man Anthony Latz after he contracted the incurable lung cancer mesothelioma as a result of inhaling asbestos fibres while constructing a fence with James Hardie asbestos cement sheeting.


Judge Gilchrist found James Hardie was well aware by the time that Mr Latz bought the product that it could kill him, yet they didn’t provide warnings or suggest safety precautions.


He concluded that this reckless indifference for his life was motivated by James Hardie’s “thirst for profit which it valued ahead of his safety.”


Ms Burge said the decision would hopefully help the thousands of Australians who are expected to develop asbestos related diseases in the coming decades as a result of exposure to James Hardie products.


“The legal precedent set by this case is important for ensuring better compensation outcomes for current and future victims,” she said.


“I also hope that this case provides an important deterrent to any other companies that might be considering selling products that they know are dangerous, so the horrific legacy of asbestos is never again repeated.”


27 May 2017.