Landmark asbestos compo claim won
By Nicolas Perpitch, dtm
February 19, 2008 08:19pm
A PERTH motor mechanic has been awarded $840,000 compensation for exposure to asbestos in brake linings while working at two Ford car dealerships.
Antonino Lo Presti, 58, who suffers from serious fibrosis and requires constant oxygen assistance, has become the first mechanic in Australia to win a successful negligence verdict against a car company for exposure to asbestos.
His lawyer, Michael Magazanik from Slater and Gordon, said today's judgment in the Western Australian Supreme Court could open the way for thousands of other mechanics who suffer from asbestos related diseases.
"This decision will set a precedent because it's the first time a mechanic has succeeded against a car manufacturer in this country and there are literally thousands of mechanics who have been exposed to asbestos while working with brakes," he said.
Between 1970 and 1987 Mr Lo Presti used compressed air to blow out the brake drums and handle asbestos brake linings when brakes were serviced or changed.
"It would generate large amounts of dust containing asbestos which would blow up into my face and stick to my clothes and hair," Mr Lo Presti said in his witness statement to the court.
"It would cause a cloud or haze in the air and fall down in the area where I was working."
The Sicilian-born Mr Lo Presti was diagnosed with asbestosis and pleural disease in July 2001.
But the Ford Motor Company of Australia argued it was not asbestosis but a pulmonary fibrosis of unknown cause.
Ford admitted it knew by 1970 that exposure to certain asbestos fibres could cause asbestos related diseases but denied it knew Mr Lo Presti's type of work could increase the risk.
Mr Lo Presti said while he worked for Ford he was not aware of the asbestos in the brake linings or the danger it posed.
Justice Andrew Beech today ruled Ford ought to have known that if no protective measures were taken the asbestos fibres released from the brake linings could cause life threatening injury.
Justice Beech said Ford owed its mechanics a duty of care and should have warned them of the dangers.
An emotional Mr Lo Presti today expressed his relief that the five years of courts battles were at an end.
"Now I can go on with my life," he tearfully said.
His wife, Connie Lo Presti, worked three jobs, seven days a week after he became sick and could not work.
She said she could now slow down and spend more time at home caring for her husband.
Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia president Robert Cojakozic said the matter should have been resolved earlier.
"He is at the end stage of a respiratory disease, he life is precarious. It could be a matter of months that Mr Lo Presti has got left," Mr Cojakozic said.
Ford was being sought for comment.