New Record Set for South Australian Asbestos Claim

16 August 2017

In a recent decision of the District Court of South Australia, a South Australian record of $1,062,000 in damages have been awarded to seventy year-old Anthony Latz, who was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2016. Anthony Latz was exposed to asbestos fibres while building a fence using James Hardie asbestos sheeting in his Adelaide residence in 1976.

The District Court held that by 1976, asbestos manufacturer James Hardie (now Amaca) knew that asbestos sheeting would cause mesothelioma and that use of the sheeting could kill end-users. In failing to take precautions to prevent harm, Judge Gilchrist held that James Hardie had shown reckless indifference to Anthony Latz.

Because of this reckless indifference, Judge Gilchrist’s damages award included $30,000 in exemplary damages. Although a relatively modest exemplary damages award, Judge Gilchrist noted that this was in large part due to the requirement that it reflect community attitudes and standards at the time of the 1976 incident.

Judge Gilchrist went on to say that if he were to judge James Hardie’s inaction by today’s standards, the award would have been considerably larger.

In addition to awarding Anthony Latz compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses and future care, in a landmark decision, a further award was made by Judge Gilchrist of $500,000 to cover pension entitlements Antony Latz would have received had his life not been cut short. In doing so, this decision may be among the first asbestos decisions in South Australia to compensate a retiree for economic loss.

Turner Freeman, representatives for Anthony Latz, commented that the award for exemplary damages and economic loss was a significant victory for all current and future asbestos victims. Future cases will indicate whether or not reckless indifference in the vein of James Hardie’s 1976 actions is likely to become a common source of additional damages.