THE law firm that represented asbestos victims and unions in negotiating the 2004 James Hardie Agreement says today’s announcement of a potential funding shortfall should not spell the end of compensation for asbestos victims.
Slater & Gordon executive director, Ken Fowlie, said the asbestos compensation funding agreement was designed to last 40 years.
“It was designed to take into account the ups and downs of the economy and James Hardie’s economic performance while at the same time continuing to provide compensation for victims,” Fowlie said.
Today’s announcement of a potential funding shortfall to the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund by James Hardie is a disappointment, he said, “because it will create further concern for sufferers of asbestos disease”.
“It is important to understand that under the agreement there are provisions to deal with these sort of situations, including applying to the Supreme Court of NSW to have it authorise a scheme where payments are made over time,” he said.
His comments follow news today that the NSW Supreme Court has found former board members of James Hardie breached their duties by making misleading statements about its ability to pay asbestos compensation.
Justice Ian Gzell said today that some of the corporate watchdog’s allegations against 10 former director and executives at James Hardie had been successful.
The Court heard that public statements issued by James Hardie in 2001 said a fund set up to meets its asbestos compensation liabilities had been fully funded. However, it was later discovered the compensation foundation was under funded by more than $1 billion.
“I have found that since the Final ASX Announcement was false or misleading, ASIC has made out its allegation that by issuing it to the ASX on 16 February 2001, [James Hardie Industries] engaged in conduct that was misleading or deceptive,” the judge said.
The judge added that the publication of a 23 February 2001 ASX announcement was to “induce the reader to hold [James Hardie] shares thereby maintaining or stabilising their market price”.
See today's e-magazine here.