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Between 1963 and 1979, Turner Freeman client William Abel worked as a sheetmetal worker, assistant plumber, foreman plumber, production manager and manufacturing manager for Atco. Atco built transportable buildings made of asbestos cement fibro sheets, which were manufactured and supplied by James Hardie & Coy Pty Limited. Mr. Abel cut and installed the asbestos cement sheets manufactured and supplied by James Hardie and worked in the vicinity of others who were using the fibro sheets manufactured and supplied by James Hardie.

William’s fight

In July 2005, Mr. Abel collapsed in the shower. He was rushed to hospital where scans showed that he was suffering from a large right-sided pleural effusion (fluid on the lung). Fluid was drained from Mr. Abel.

In August 2005, Mr. Abel underwent an operation to drain more fluid and take biopsies of his lung. Mr. Abel’s treating doctors suspected that he was suffering from the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, and told Mr. Abel that this was the likely diagnosis. The results of the biopsies showed that Mr. Abel was not suffering from mesothelioma.

As a result of the surgery and the pleural effusion, Mr. Abel developed pleural thickening. The pleural thickening continues to cause him restriction resulting in breathlessness and tightness in his chest.

After undergoing investigation for mesothelioma, Mr. Abel developed a psychiatric condition of an Adjustment Disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. Mr. Abel continued to fear that he would one day contract the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.

Mr. Abel instructed Turner Freeman to commence proceedings on his behalf against Amaca Pty Limited (formerly James Hardie & Coy Pty Limited) in the District Court of South Australia. Proceedings were filed on 14 January 2008. Mr. Abel’s case proceeded to hearing in 2009. James Hardie disputed Mr. Abel’s claim saying that during the period 1963 to 1979 it did not nor ought not to have known of the dangers from cutting and handling asbestos cement sheets. At the hearing, Mr. Abel called evidence to show that during the period he worked with James Hardie’s products, James Hardie knew that any exposure to asbestos was dangerous and could cause serious injuries to persons such as Mr. Abel.

Judgment in Mr. Abel’s case was handed down on 23 July 2010. Mr. Abel succeeded in his claim against James Hardie and was awarded damages for pain and suffering as well as for the care and assistance provided by his wife and family as a result of his asbestos disease, his past and future medical and other expenses, and interest. All up, Mr. Abel was awarded the sum of $155,967 plus costs on a provisional damages basis. The award was a provisional damages award allowing Mr. Abel to bring a further claim against James Hardie if he contracted mesothelioma or lung cancer. Mr. Abel’s judgment was the first provisional damages judgment in South Australia.

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