Victor in Landmark Asbestos Case Fights for Legal Costs

Perth, Australia—An asbestosis victim whose court battle was victorious is now seeking further damages in order to pay his legal costs.

Antonino Lo Presti, 59, worked for the Ford Motor Company as a mechanic in the 1970s and 1980s. In the course of his work, he used an air compressor to blow out asbestos brake drums and brake lines. He was diagnosed with asbestosis in July 2001.

Asbestosis, a respiratory disease which is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers into the lungs, has long period of latency, meaning that it is often not diagnosed until years or even decades after the initial exposure. The asbestos fibers cause scarring and thickening of the pleural walls, and can lead to serious medical problems and can even be fatal.

The Australian Supreme Court ruled in February 2008 that Lo Presti contracted asbestosis as a direct result of his employment as a Ford mechanic, and that he would not have been subject to the disease if the company had warned him of the dangers.

The Ford Motor Company of Australia was also at fault for not implementing proper safety precautions, added the judge.

Lo Presti, an Italian by birth, began working at a Western Australia car dealership shortly after emigrating to the country. The dealership where Lo Presti worked was reportedly filled with asbestos-containing dust, and there was no ventilation system in place.

The legal battle lasted for five years, including a four-week trial in 2007. Lo Presti was awarded $840,000 Australian dollars in damages, but was left with a attorney’s bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now, Lo Presti is back in court, asking that these legal expenses be covered by Ford as well.

During its ruling, the Supreme Court ordered that Ford pay 60 percent of the plaintiff’s legal costs, but recently lawyers pressed to have the remainder of the tab picked up by the automotive giant.

The case is considered a landmark one, since it is believed to be the first time an Australian motor mechanic has won a successful negligence verdict for exposure to asbestos against a dealership or car company. The firm which brought the suit on Lo Presti’s behalf, Slater & Gordon, believes that there are thousands of mechanics and other employees who may be at risk for asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases as a result of working in unsafe garages or auto plants.