In May 2017, Turner Freeman ran a case for Tony Latz, a man who developed terminal mesothelioma as a result of exposure to James Hardie’s ‘Super Six’ corrugated asbestos cement sheets whilst building a fence on his property in the late 1970s. A judgment was handed down on 26 May 2017 awarding Mr Latz the record amount of $1,062,000 in compensation.
In addition to the usual claims for damages, such as pain and suffering and the cost of future medical treatment, Mr Latz also claimed an amount for his loss of future pension entitlements. Mr Latz worked for the South Australian government for many years. At the time of his diagnosis, Mr Latz was in receipt of a State Superannuation pension as well as a part Age pension. Mr Latz argued that because his life expectancy had been drastically reduced as a result of his mesothelioma, James Hardie ought to compensate him for his inability to collect his future pension payments, up until his normal life expectancy. A major issue in the case was therefore whether Mr Latz should be awarded an amount for the loss of his superannuation pension and his part age pension during the ‘lost years’.
Claiming for ‘lost’ pension
The trial Judge found that Mr Latz should be compensated for these losses. James Hardie appealed the decision, first to the Supreme Court of South Australia and finally to the High Court of Australia on this issue.
On 13 June 2018 the High Court published its reasons in Mr Latz’s case. The majority found that the lower courts were correct in awarding Mr Latz damages for the loss of his superannuation pension. The High Court said “In these appeals, there is a clear and recognised injustice. As a result of Mr Latz’s injury, caused by Amaca, he will suffer an economic loss in respect of his superannuation pension. That loss is both certain and able to be measured by reference to the terms of the Superannuation Act – the net present value of the superannuation pension for the remainder of his pre-illness life expectancy, a further 16 years. He should be entitled to recover that loss.”
The High Court found that a distinction was to be made in regard to Mr Latz’s superannuation pension and his part age pension on the basis that the age pension was neither an entitlement nor linked with wages, and therefore not a compensable loss.
The High Court’s decision is a clear statement of the law on whether lost pension entitlements are properly claimable in Australia. It was the first case of its kind to reach appellant level in Australia. The effect of the decision is such that anyone who is receipt of a pension linked to past work (as is the case for many government employees) and has their life expectancy reduced as a result of the negligence of another, is entitled to claim for the loss of the ability to collect these payments in the ‘lost years’.
Turner Freeman acted for Mr Latz throughout his battle against James Hardie, including in the High Court of Australia.
For any information on the Latz case, please contact our Adelaide office on 08 8213 1000.