Widow sues James Hardie over asbestos exposure from washing husband’s clothes

Elva Halliday, now 84 and suffering from mesothelioma, is taking building products supplier James Hardie to court for failing to protect her family from asbestos exposure.

The memory of her husband coming home and playing with the kids has become a painful one for Elva Halliday​.

Without knowing it, Patrick Halliday​ was exposing his three children and his wife to toxic asbestos particles on his work overalls.

Elva has since developed a form of cancer directly linked to asbestos exposure and – in a New Zealand first – is taking legal action against his former employer, building products supplier James Hardie, for failing to protect the family against a known toxic substance.

She claims the exposure came from regularly washing her husband’s work overalls, which were covered in asbestos dust, and from the offcuts he took home from the Penrose factory in Auckland to use for home renovation.

“Washerwoman” claims related to asbestos exposure have been brought in other countries, such as Britain and Australia, but not in New Zealand.

Her lawyer said he had high confidence that Halliday had a legitimate claim to compensation.

“Her condition is only caused by asbestos, and we think that, judged by a fair assessment of the evidence before the court, that the case will be successful,” Jonathan Walsh, who is based in Brisbane, said.

“As hundreds of cases brought in Australia prove – these cases have been brought successfully – James Hardie didn’t take reasonable steps.”

Patrick Halliday, who was a factory worker for James Hardie from the mid-1950s until 1976, died of lung cancer in 1992, having never smoked. Elva, now 84, has recently undergone radiation treatment after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

“He came home covered in dust, I washed his clothes, we got on with life.”

Her biggest concerns are for her three children, because the effects of exposure can surface decades later.

“Their father always played with them when he came home from work. They were always about when I was washing the clothes,” she said this week from her home near Brisbane.

“Knowing that this [mesothelioma] has been diagnosed at my age, I feel they are under threat, because they were exposed too, as little children.”

All three are now in their late 50s and 60s.

“It makes me cross, and makes me feel very neglected by a firm that should have been able to make people aware of the dangers,” she said.

Compensation for the effects of asbestos exposure is handled in New Zealand under ACC, but comes with limitations. The claimant must have been exposed at work, meaning families are not covered.

Elva said she brough her civil case against James Hardie to provide others with a new avenue to compensation.

“When I was coming home on the bus from radiation one day, there was a young man, he had been a builder in Australia, he was only 50, and that poor man had mesothelioma,” she said.

“That strengthened my resolve to help. Here is Australia, I think the help is out there, but in New Zealand I don’t think they are aware enough of how they can be helped.

“Money isn’t the end of all things … but money does help people in need. I think these people have been overlooked.”

Walsh said James Hardie’s duty of care was two-fold: firstly, to effectively warn employees of the dangerous nature of asbestos products, which he believed extended to their families in avoiding carrying the danger home, and secondly, to warn consumers of their potentially dangerous qualities.

Ben Thompson, partner in Hazel Armstrong Law, a Kiwi firm that has been involved with asbestos claims, said there were likely to be many other partners and families in Halliday’s position.

Cases of “washerwoman syndrome” had not been conducted before in New Zealand, but if cause could be established, she would probably be eligible for compensation.

A spokeswoman for James Hardie confirmed Halliday has commenced proceedings against subsidiary company Studorp, but “as the matter is the subject of legal proceedings, it is not appropriate for us to comment further”.

Article courtesy of stuff.co.nz