Significant ruling for asbestos claims
ASBESTOS victims have re- ceived a boost after the High Court rejected an attempt by BHP Billiton to appeal a precedent-setting compensation decision — ending a 3½-year legal battle.
Willem van Soest took legal action against BHP in 2012 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a deadly lung cancer caused by asbestos.
He argued that it was caused by exposure that occurred in 1962, when he spent 11 weeks working as a painter and docker at the BHP shipyard in Whyalla.
His case was significant given the short time frame of his employment and the fact that he had not been working directly with asbestos products.
BHP argued that the company didn’t know that simply working close to other employees as they installed as-
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The company also claimed that his exposure was within the bounds of what was considered safe in 1962, justifying their decision not to provide respirators or other safety equipment.
The High Court last month rejected those arguments, upholding a ruling of the Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court which had awarded Mr van Soest $358,151.30 in damages.
Unfortunately, Mr van Soest died of his mesothelioma during the legal battle, aged 74, but his widow and son continued the case be- cause of the significance to other asbestos victims.
The High Court’s ruling may have significant implications for thousands of Australian workers exposed to asbestos during their employment with major industrial users of the product, prior to the Australian Government banning its use in the 1980s.
In particular, the decision confirms that Australian courts will hold a business responsible for failing to take reasonable steps to protect employees from a safety risk such as asbestos, even if those workers are exposed only indirectly, in small quantities, or for short time frames.