Asbestos Litigation In Spain 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Litigation on behalf of asbestos-injured workers in Spain is on the increase. On May 27, 2008, a unanimous decision was handed down by the New Jersey Appellate Panel which upheld the right of 15 Spanish workers to sue U.S. company Owen-Illinois (O-I) for injuries sustained while working on U.S. Navy ships in Spain. The case, which began in 2004, alleged that the plaintiffs had been occupationally exposed to O-I asbestos-containing insulating products whilst employed in the jointly owned U.S.-Spanish military installation in Rota or in the private shipyards in Cadiz from 1950-1998. The 3-0 ruling reversed a lower court verdict that had barred the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds.1 In the 2008 verdict, Appellate Judge Anthony J. Parrillo criticized the lower court judge saying: “We agree and conclude that the determination to dismiss plaintiffs' actions in favor of a foreign jurisdiction was a clearly mistaken exercise of the court's discretion.” As “key corporate evidence and witnesses relating to the development, testing, marketing and sale of (asbestos products) to the U.S. government or military are more likely available in this (U.S.) country,” O-I would not be overburdened by the case, the Court concluded.

O-I lawyer John Garde would not confirm whether the company would appeal this decision saying: “I find it difficult to believe that any New Jersey court would countenance claims remaining in New Jersey that have nothing to do with New Jersey, with plaintiffs who never even set foot in New Jersey.” Speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs, Mitchell S, Cohen said: “Spanish law will not allow, under the facts of these cases, to file a claim in Spain… That's because the injuries took place on Sovereign U.S. territory, the Navy warships.”

Earlier this year (January 22, 2008), the verdict of a lower court against Babcock Wilcox was upheld by an appellate Court which ordered that compensation of 100,000 euros ($155,015) be paid to asbestos widow Aryan Snows Rodriguez and her two children for the death of Jose Maria Gonzalez Esteban. The former employee of Babcock Wilcox Espanola, S.A, a company now owned by the Spanish State, died of asbestosis. From 1974-1992, he had worked in a boiler room, where he was exposed to asbestos insulation on the boilers, pipework and furnaces. Neither he nor his workmates were informed of the hazards of asbestos; no preventive measures were put in place by the company to protect the health of the 10,000 people it employed. The Association of Asbestos Victims in Euskadi is calling for justice for the injured.

These two cases are just the tip of the iceberg. According to the paper: Mesothelioma mortality in men: Trends during 1977 2001 and projections for 2002 2016 in Spain by S Pitarque, R Cleries et al:

“… (in Spain) around 800 companies used 2.6 million tonnes of asbestos between 1900 and 2000 (chrysotile was 90% of the total). Use was especially high between 1960 and the mid 1980s, reaching its peak in 1972 (113 000 tonnes). Asbestos regulations were first introduced in 1984 and asbestos was banned in 2001… An estimate of occupational exposure to asbestos in Spain indicates that 56 600 workers were exposed to asbestos in the late 1990s, mainly in the construction industry.”2

The scientists predict that during the period 2007-2016, 1,321 men will die from mesothelioma; this is in addition to the 1,928 men who died between the years 1977-2001. No attempt has been made to assess the death toll from asbestos-related lung cancer and only 11 cases have been recognized as occupationally-related. The authors of this paper call for the initiation of “an active medical surveillance program based on all workers with a history of asbestos exposure” in order to recognise and compensate all those who suffer from an asbestos-related disease contracted through occupational exposure.

June 25, 2008


1 Associated Press. Spain workers can sue over ship asbestos. International Herald Tribune. May 27, 2008;

2 Occup Environ Med 2008;65:279-282.



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