Claims of asbestos exposure have been on the rise in Australia for years, with many of these resulting in compensation for the damages the carcinogenic fibre does to the lungs.
In its latest financial report, construction equipment manufacturer James Hardie announced that asbestos claims against the company had affected its operating profits enough that it would need to report it separately.
Although there was a period where asbestos exposure claims seemed to have evened out, they surged again and took a toll on quarterly profits. Often, the amount plaintiffs were asking for – and winning – was much higher than the company had expected it to be.
What’s more, according to The Age, Hardie recently stated that despite predictions asbestos claims had hit a high in 2011, this estimate has since been changed. Now, the company doesn’t expect to see the amount of claims plateau until at least a few years from now.
The manufacturer was quick to point out, though, that much more data needs to be gathered to create an accurate timetable for when claims will begin to cease.
The company released figures on August 12 that showed there was a total of 160 new claims between March and June 2013, higher than the 135 the company had predicted going into the quarter.
A growing problem
The situation has become so bad for Hardie that it has established a separate fund to pay for all of the claims that are made. The company also noted that each payout appears to be rising in value as well. This could cause problems for this separate fund if both the number and value of claims continues to rise.
But, once the asbestos liabilities were excluded, the company still managed to bring in US$52 million in profit for the recent quarter as demand for building materials in both Australia and the US continues to rise.
Exposure to asbestos has been proven to cause a number of health problems, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. In Australia in particular, asbestosis claims have been rampant, as the mineral was widely used throughout the 20th century – until its ill effects were discovered.
Exposure has already killed thousands of people around the country, and official projections from the National Health and Medical Research Council suggest thousands more could die this century from previous exposure.
Anyone who may have been exposed to the mineral may want to explore all legal options for compensation.