The heirs of a dockyard worker have been awarded non-pecuniary damages of €12,000 after a judge ruled that worker's right to life was violated through his constant exposure to deadly asbestos.
Emanuel Caruana’s widow and four children had sued the Chief Government Medical Officer and the Attorney General after medical certificates showed beyond doubt that the pensioner’s death in September 2005 had been caused by years of exposure to the deadly substance while working at Malta Drydocks.
The former labourer passed away after a nine-month long battle against lung cancer at the age of 71, ten years after his retirement.
Medical specialists testifying in civil proceedings instituted by the deceased’s heirs had declared that there existed a direct and scientifically proved link between malignant mesothelioma and asbestos, ‘a staple material’ widely used in insulation, boards and wiring at the shipyard.
This link had been acknowledged since the 1960s, as recorded in the British Medical Journal, the court was informed.
Mr Caruana had worked all his life at the dockyard, thereby exposing himself to the substance which, according to a policy manager testifying in the suit, though mostly used in its harmless type, had nonetheless been present in a lesser amount in its most dangerous form.
The dockyard manager had also explained how all asbestos had eventually been dismantled and shipped abroad to be disposed of according to established legal procedures.
Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti declared that the applicants had sufficiently proven that their relative’s death by cancer had been caused by exposure to asbestos and this, in turn, on account of a ‘serious omission by the state’ resulting in a breach of fundamental human rights.
The dangers of the substance had long been known, the court observed, pointing out that in spite of this not only did the state not keep abreast with necessary legislative updates but it had also ‘failed to issue public warnings about asbestos and take adequate preventive measures to eliminate the use of this material so harmful to man’s health.’
After taking into account all circumstances including the age of the deceased, who had been well past the age of employment when he died, the court declared that the protection of the man’s right to life as safeguarded under article 33 of the Constitution and article 2 of the European Convention had been violated.
The court thereby held both respondents jointly responsible for the payment of €12,000 by way of non-pecuniary damages in view of the suffering endured by the wife and heirs of the deceased.