Adelaide man awarded $3m asbestos payout

By Ericka Pingol | 08 Aug 2019

Handyman Matthew Werfel from Adelaide won a landmark $3m compensation case against former asbestos manufacturer James Hardie, according to a report from ABC.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal ruled that James Hardie failed to take reasonable steps minimising Werfel’s risk of exposure, the report said.

The compensation considered Werfel’s age and expected lost future income, according to the report.

Werfel was exposed to asbestos while renovating two homes in the late 1990s and early 2000s, unaware that the homes contained the deadly material, the report said.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of mesothelioma in 2017, after discovering a lump on his right leg, the report said.

Werfel belongs to the third wave of asbestos victims—people who come into contact with asbestos already present in homes, according to the report.

Workers mining and milling asbestos or those working in factories belong to the first wave of victims.  Tradesmen who used the product belong to the second wave, the report said.

By the time of Werfel’s exposure, James Hardie has stopped producing asbestos. However, Werfel's lawyer Annie Hoffman argued the manufacturer should have done more alerting potential home renovators of asbestos’ danger, according to the report.

“We've likened the sort of campaign that James Hardie should have run to other public awareness campaigns like the Grim Reaper AIDS campaign, as well as the Slip, Slop, Slap skin cancer campaign,” Hoffman told 7.30.

James Hardie has an estimated liability of more than $1.8bn, according to auditing firm KMPG. However, the firm concedes that there is considerable uncertainty because future claims are unknown, the report said.

Home-renovator claims on the fund are currently at record levels, according to Lee Moerman, an associate professor at the University Wollongong accounting school.

“Last financial year there were 700 identifiable claims for mesothelioma in Australia. Of those, 374 were claimed against James Hardie and 229 of those claims were for renovators. And that does not factor in any significant surge in third-wave claims. If you look at the statistics from James Hardie and their actuarial report, you'd have to think that may increase.  It's gone up from 50% to 60%,” Moerman told 7.30.

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