Mixed Results for Spanish and French Asbestos Victims
In early September 2006, verdicts were reached by courts in Spain and France which affected the compensation rights of asbestos victims. Lawsuits brought by asbestos-injured workers, including 8 who died from mesothelioma and 30 with asbestosis and pleural plaques, were lost on September 1 when a Court in Alicante ruled that the illnesses had been contracted prior to Spanish asbestos regulations coming into force (1982). Even though the Court recognized that the victims were exposed to excessive amounts of asbestos dust at work, their employer, Uralita, was, ultimately, not responsible. Amongst the defendants who were found not guilty were two directors and two company doctors from Uralita's asbestos-cement factory in San Vicente del Raspeig, Spain. The Association of Spanish Asbestos Victims was appalled by the decision and the irregularities which took place during protracted judicial proceedings; so-called independent medical experts, who are well-paid by the Uralita, should not, the Association said, be regarded as impartial by the Court. The claimants have lodged an appeal.
On September 4, a criminal court in Roubaix, Northern France convicted the Alstom Power Boiler Company and former director Bernard Gomez of exposing employees to asbestos. The court issued the maximum fine of €75,000 (US$96,435) to the company and passed a 9 month suspended sentence on Gomez, ordering him to pay a fine of €3,000 (US$3,857). Each of the 150 workers in the civil action was awarded the sum of @euro;10,000 (US$12,858). From 1998 to 2001, 400 workers were exposed to asbestos at this site: 85 are sick and 10 have died. When the factory closed in 2003, 40 tons of asbestos were removed from the site
This was the first time that a French Court found a company responsible for placing employees in danger by exposing them to asbestos, a hazardous substance. The workers' lawyer, Jean-Paul Teissonniere, explained that the case was made possible by using Article 223-1 of the French Criminal Code which defines the offence of exposing others to immediate risks, wounding or death; this article permits immediate judicial intervention to prevent illegal activities without the pathogenic effects of the exposures manifesting themselves biologically. Under the French legal system, trade unions or associations are permitted to constitute a civil party to initiate legal proceedings on behalf of all those at-risk and to claim damages for the true extent of the trauma and deadly risks to which claimants were exposed.
Ban Asbestos France, delighted with the verdict, is recommending that similar lawsuits be brought against asbestos multinationals and corporations profiting from asbestos removal, ship dismantling or other operations which endanger human life by exposing workers and the public to asbestos.
September 14, 2006