In an asbestos personal injury lawsuit a 70 year old Anthony Latz, a retired surveyor from Stonyfell, South Australian, was awarded a record-breaking compensation amount of $1.06 million. The Adelaide District Court made the first ever ruling for such a large payout and forced the company James Hardie, an asbestos manufacturer, to pay the exemplary damages. Anthony Latz was exposed to asbestos fibers when he used James Hardie products.
Anthony Latz was building a fence for his property, a newly built home in Glenalta, and had used James Hardie branded cement sheets for the construction. The cement sheets themselves contained asbestos and was deemed to be the chemical responsible for Anthony Latz’s later diagnosis for his incurable lung cancer, mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, the judgment was later appealed by the asbestos manufacturer and the case was taken up to the Supreme Court of South Australia. The Justices responded by amending the original judgment given by the District Court judge and reduced the compensatory damages from $1.06 million to $864,174, a whole $195,826 less than the original amount. The Supreme Court kept and held with the rulings of most of Latz’s claims. However, what the Court did “challenge was the District Court’s decision to award Anthony Latz’s family compensation for lost pension.”
According to Latz’s attorney, the initial exemplary damages were valued at $30,000. However, the court disagreed with the amount and actually increased the damages to $250,000. This later amount is a first in South Australian history, making it the largest exemplary damage payout ever upheld. However, the amount of the damages is not the only thing that has been on people’s minds.
Anna Hoffman, Latz’s solicitor, believe that the Supreme Court’s decision would have a substantial effect on not just Anthony Latz and James Hardie, but also have a significant impact on cases that involved other asbestos victims and the companies that produced the asbestos containing product the victim used at the time. In fact, Asbestos Victims Associations’ South Australian president Kat Burge commented that the case “is significant for every business in South Australia that still has asbestos in their workplaces and to every community member who may be exposed to asbestos in the future.”
With this verdict, the South Australian Supreme Court has drawn a line in the sand for addressing asbestos based cases. It is a strong indication of the courts’ opinion to not act lightly and to not have safety come in second to profits.