In August 2019, Annie Hoffman helped Mr Werfel, an Adelaide man who was diagnosed with mesothelioma be awarded a record payout of $3 million dollars against James Hardie in a precedent setting victory in South Australia.
Mr Werfel had been exposed to asbestos during work in the 1990’s as a fencing contracting, and again from performing home renovation on a house in Pooraka in 2000 and a house in Parafield Gardens in 2004.
Mr Werfel had no idea at the time of his exposure to asbestos dust that the products contained asbestos.
He went on to develop a rare form of mesothelioma, which will cut his life drastically short.
James Hardie appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of South Australia.
James Hardie argued that it did not owe a duty of care to those, like Mr Werfel, who might be unwittingly exposed to its toxic products which remain throughout the Australian environment, despite asbestos having been banned in Australia for decades.
A decision was handed down by the Supreme Court on 21 December 2020.
The Supreme Court found unanimously that James Hardie did owe a duty of care to Mr Werfel, and in failing to properly warn the Australian public of the dangers associated with their product, including Mr Werfel, breached that duty. The Supreme Court found that James Hardie ought to have made “stronger, more frequent public statements about the risk of mesothelioma to persons who occasionally worked on it asbestos-cement products”, and that had it done so Mr Werfel would have acted on that warning and would not have contracted mesothelioma.
The decision means that the entitlement to claim compensation has been protected for others who have come across asbestos in the Australian environment during the course of work as a handyman or home renovation and who will go on to develop an asbestos related disease as a result of that exposure. This includes many people who haven’t yet been exposed.
This is without doubt the most significant Judgment in an asbestos claim in Australia since the decision of Latz.
The Supreme Court reduced Mr Werfel’s damages to $2.2 million. The decision still represents the largest award of damages to a person affected by a dust disease in South Australian history.