Court slashes amount of damages for asbestos victims’ family

Summary

An appeal court in Brussels has reduced an award of damages by 90% in the case against Eternit, which it says failed to protect its employees from asbestos

‘Greed for profit’

The court of appeal in Brussels has confirmed a judgement against roof products manufacturer Eternit for failing to take safety measures to protect its employees and residents from asbestos. However, a €250,000 award of damages handed down in first instance was reduced to €25,000.

Eternit, based in Kapelle-op-den-Bos, Flemish Brabant, long manufactured fibre cement using asbestos. A case was filed against the company by the Jonckheere family, who lost their father, a long-time Eternit employee who also lived in Kapelle-op-den-Bos, to mesothelioma in 2000. The lung cancer is characteristic of exposure to asbestos.

Their mother later died of the same cause, and the family alleges that their deaths were due to the asbestos, which gave not only employees cancer but also was responsible for cancer in people living near the factory.

The judge at first instance ruled that the dangers of asbestos have been widely known since the 1960s, but that Eternit had ignored the dangers, and even tried to “cover up and obscure” the problem. Eternit continued to use asbestos in its products until 1997, as the government was preparing a ban on the substance, which came into force in 1998.

The Jonckheere family was awarded €250,000 in damages, accusing Eternit of “greed for profit” which allowed them to “push aside scientific knowledge”.

N-VA member of the federal parliament Valerie Van Peel pointed out this week that the Jonckheere family stood virtually alone against Eternit, despite “many victims in this country”. She blamed the “perfidious role” of the federal government’s Asbestos Fund, which pays compensation to those with mesothelioma or the chronic lung disease asbestosis.

“By accepting compensation from the fund for mounting medical costs that have to be paid in the last months of life, asbestos victims have to forgo the right to pursue the asbestos company in court,” she said. “Since their time and energy are scarce, almost everyone opts for the fund.”

A new regulation is in the works, she said, that would allow patients to receive compensation from the fund as well as take Eternit to court.

Photo: Harald Weber/Wikimedia

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