In a recent mesothelioma claim, Segelov Taylor Lawyers’ client, Mr Torok, was awarded the second largest amount ever awarded for general damages in the NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal, in a decision which has reset the baseline for general damages in mesothelioma claims in NSW.
This case is significant not only for the large amount of general damages awarded but also for the Judge’s exhaustive examination of working conditions and the use of asbestos at Cockatoo Dockyard in 1980.
Segelov Taylor Lawyers client Atilla Torok was exposed to asbestos during his work in Cockatoo Dockyards as a casual Painter and Docker in 1980. His tasks involved scraping metal surfaces to prepare them for painting and painting the ships and sweeping up dust and other material, often in confined spaces such as the inside the hull of a ship or inside the hull of a submarine undergoing a refit. Mr Torok worked in an extremely dusty environment.
Mr Torok was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August 2021 at the age of 81.
Russell SC DCJ heard oral evidence of five different witnesses who worked at Cockatoo Dockyard at the time. He also examined evidence from previous matters, and a substantial amount of evidence gathered by the Workers Compensation (Dust Diseases) Board as to asbestos at the Dockyard.
The judge said:
“It was not an overstatement to say, as put by senior counsel for the plaintiff, that the use of asbestos at Cockatoo Island was “extensive”’ at Cockatoo Island”at .
Russell SC DCJ held that in 1980 there was extensive use of asbestos at Cockatoo Island, and Mr Torok was exposed to the asbestos dust through his work at Cockatoo Island, including exposure whilst working in the engine room of a merchant ship and confined spaces like the inside the hull of a submarine undergoing a refit. Russell SC DCJ further held that it was not just the workers who directly handled the asbestos that were exposed to the dust. The dust generated by the direct asbestos work and the act of sweeping performed by the Painters and Dockers would have liberated asbestos dust and fibres that remained in the air and on the deck near where the work was done, indirectly exposing Painters and Dockers who were working nearby.
The Judge held that there was no warning given to Painters and Dockers at Cockatoo Island concerning the danger of asbestos dust, there were no precautions taken, such as masks, respirators, exhaust systems, decontamination or vacuuming and there were no steps taken to guard against exposure to asbestos dust. The complaints from the Painters and Dockers about working with asbestos and the dusty conditions were ignored.
The Judge contributed his conclusions to the “overwhelming evidence” produced by our team, that “shows the extensive use of asbestos at Cockatoo Island, the dusty conditions that painters and dockers worked in, the confined spaces they worked in, and the lack of any precautions taken by Cockatoo Dockyard for the safety of their workers.”
The Judge concluded by stating,
“To my mind it is glaringly improbable that a painter and docker who carried out labouring work for 98 working days at Cockatoo Island in 1980 would not have had causative exposure to asbestos dust.”
Mr Torok was awarded $420,000 in general damages.
The full judgment can be found here.