Asbestos Justice: The Time Has Come!
From Japan to Brazil via Italy and France, over recent days asbestos victims have secured amazing judicial wins. On January 29, 2016, the Kyoto District Court1 for the first time upheld the right of construction workers to bring claims against major manufacturers for negligently exposing them to asbestos. Presiding Judge Kazumi Higa said: It is highly probable that the construction materials sold by the makers caused damage to the plaintiffs.
Nine manufacturing companies were ordered to pay compensation of 110 million yen (US$908,000) to 23 construction workers and their families; damages against the Japanese government totalling 216 million yen (US$1.78m) were awarded to 27 construction workers and their families. The Japanese government had previously been fined for failing to take timely and appropriate action on the asbestos hazard by district courts in Osaka,2 Tokyo and Fukuoka.
Victorious campaigners at Japanese Diet after Kyoto verdict, January 29, 2016.
The issue of anxiety caused by asbestos exposure is contentious; defendants lawyers categorize sufferers as the worried well even as the mental anguish and depression experienced by people at-risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases often disrupts and derails their life. Last week, two French institutions acknowledged that people negligently exposed to asbestos deserve compensation even if they have no symptoms of disease. On January 28, 2016, an industrial tribunal in Bobigny awarded 315 Bosch employees and former employees €5,000 for asbestos anxiety prejudice which resulted from hazardous workplace exposures during the 1990s.3 A lawyer representing the claimants said that an appeal is being considered as other jurisdictions have awarded sums of €10,000 per person. The following day (January 29, 2016), the Amiens Court of Appeal doubled an award set by a lower tribunal for compensation due to 63 Honeywell factory workers, each of whom will now receive €8,000 for asbestos anxiety.4
On January 30, 2016 a landmark judicial ruling by La Spezia Labor Court was reported which held the Navy the owner of the arsenals warehouse at Marola liable for the death of a worker hazardously exposed to asbestos exposure at the warehouse. The Navy was ordered to pay compensation of €300,000 to two children of the deceased who was 68 years old when he died. In the 1960s, he had come into contact with asbestos pipe insulation which was in poor condition due to rodent activity whilst employed by the Navy. Defending the Navy, the State Attorney denied negligence, asserting that the asbestos hazard was unknown in the 1960s.5
Other judicial proceedings took place last month (January, 2016) in Ivrea, Italy in a landmark asbestos case against seventeen executives and/or owners of the Olivetti Company. The accused are facing charges ranging from murder to culpable injury over twelve asbestos-related deaths and two cases of serious illness amongst the Olivetti workforce. The asbestos victims group from Casale Monferrato (AFeVA) is one of the plaintiffs in this action. Amongst facts revealed during testimony on January 11 and 25, were the occurrence of workplace exposures to tremolite, an asbestos fiber type considered to be extremely carcinogenic. According to Regional Health Inspector Dr. Cerruti, some parts of Olivettis industrial premises remain contaminated. The trial is scheduled to continue until July, 2016 with hearings every Monday.
In Brazil, asbestos litigation can be an uncertain and slow process. In recent years, however, mobilization by the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) has led to significant improvements. Last week, the family of an engineer who died of mesothelioma in Osasco, a city in the center of Brazils asbestos heartland, received payment of one million U.S. dollars eight years after a lawsuit against Brazils asbestos giant the Eternit company had been filed. At the end of January, Eternit experienced other major defeats when a labor court in Rio de Janeiro recognized ABREA as the legitimate representative of asbestos-exposed citizens and a class action was filed by victims demanding financial compensation as well as a comprehensive package of medical support and healthcare including psychological and nutritional assistance.
In developed and developing countries judicial precedents are being set and victims are winning major victories in their fight for asbestos justice. The role of campaigning bodies and groups representing the injured such as AfeVA (Italy) and ABREA (Brazil) are of crucial importance. Governments, institutions and corporations which allowed toxic exposures to occur have been condemned and punished for their failures. National administrations, civil servants and companies which allow hazardous exposures to continue should be under no illusion: the day of reckoning is nigh!
February 1, 2016
1 State, building supply makers ordered to pay asbestos compensation. January 30, 2016.
2 On January 22, 2016, the Osaka District Court ruled that construction workers had a legitimate cause of action against the Japanese Government.
3 Amiante: des salariés de Bosch obtiennent reparation [Asbestos: Compensation for Bosch employees]. January 28, 2016.
4 Allonne: les ex-Honeywell reçoivent 8 000 € pour lamiante [Allonne: former Honeywell workers receive €8,000 for asbestos]. January 29, 2016.
5 See: Marina Militare risarcirà figli operaio morto per respirare Amianto [Navy indemnifies sons of a worker who died after inhaling asbestos]. January 30, 2016.