James Hardie Asbestos Fund Faces First Test

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The $1.5 billion trust set up by building supply manufacturer James Hardie to compensate Australian victims of asbestos diseases will face its first test today as lawyers for the trust head to court in an attempt to overturn two recent rulings by the Dust Diseases Tribunal in favor of Bernie Banton, a long-time advocate for asbestos disease victims in that country.

According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Banton – who family members say is “gravely ill” and near death – is seeking compensation to cover his medical bills, home-care expenses and loss of income.

“A second part of the claim is that Hardie was so negligent in looking after its workers,” says the article, “that Mr. Banton should receive exemplary damages, and that its conduct has affected him so much that he should receive aggravated damages.”

Last week, a judge said the claim for exemplary damages could proceed. He deferred ruling on whether or not the aggravated damages should be dismissed from the case.

Allianz Australia, the company that handles the workers’ compensation insurance for Amaca Ltd. – a subsidiary of James Hardie – made a settlement offer on October 31, but has to wait for Amaca to resolve the issues in relation to the exemplary damages before it can finalize the agreement.

Banton worked for Amaca in the 1960s and 1970s as a lathe operator. He has been credited as the individual who brought Australia’s overwhelming asbestos problems to light.