Record award for grandmother
Margaret Dawson was a 64 year old grandmother who was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in April 2007. She was exposed to asbestos dust and fibre as a result of shaking out and washing both her father’s and her husband’s work clothes. Her father and husband were employed by James Hardie & Coy Pty Ltd (“Hardies”).
Mrs Dawson moved in with her only daughter, Carina Novek and her son-in-law, Neale Novek in 2001. In February 2002 her first grandchild, Nicholas was born. She left work in 2003 to look after her grandson and to enable Mr and Mrs Novek to work full time to support their growing family.
In June 2004 her second grand child, Chelsea, was born. Mrs Dawson continued to look after both Nicholas and Chelsea full time while Mr and Mrs Novek worked.
Mrs Dawson ran the household. She looked after the children during the day while their parents were working and she looked after the majority of the domestic house chores. She cooked dinner and did all the household washing.
Mrs Dawson was not paid for her services and she did not pay rent to live with Mr and Mrs Novek.
The claim for damages that was made on behalf of Mrs Dawson in the proceedings against Hardies included a claim under Section 15B of the Civil Liability Act, 2002 for her lost capacity to provide services for the benefit of her grandchildren. Mrs Dawson’s case was a test case. There has never been an award of damages made in the Dust Diseases Tribunal under s.15B where the plaintiff was a grandparent and the primary carer to their grandchildren, and the grandchildren’s parents were still alive.
The matter came before His Honour Judge Kearns in the Dust Diseases Tribunal. His Honour ruled in favour of the plaintiff and awarded $547,137 in total damages, $193,307 of those damages being awarded under section 15B.
Hardies appealed the judgment of Judge Kearns to the Court of Appeal. On 17 March 2009, the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the Hardies appeal and Margaret’s long fight for justice was finally over.
Margaret’s daughter, Carina, remains angry at James Hardie and stated “Mum wasn’t even a Hardies worker. They don’t realise how far reaching the impact of their product was on families. Fighting us through the courts to the nth degree just compounded the injury.” The case received enormous media coverage because of its significance. It recognises the important role played by grandparents in modern Australian society, as carers of grandchildren, to enable their children to go to work or to have free time.
Margaret Dawson lost her battle with mesothelioma and died on January 27 2008. Margaret would be quietly proud to know that something that she did ended up making an enormous difference.