The families of three men who died from lung cancer caused by asbestos at their workplace have been awarded nearly €140,000 between them by the Constitutional Court.

The compensation is for breach of the right to life of ex-drydock workers Lawrence Grech – whose heirs were awarded nearly €90,000 – and Joseph Fenech, as well as former Panta Lesco employee Anthony Pulis.

The heirs had appealed the compensation previously awarded by the First Hall of the Civil Court. The Constitutional Court raised the compensation in two of the three cases – from €30,000 to €89,434 and €18,000 to €26,000 – while the compensation awarded in the third case remained unchanged.

Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr Justice Noel Cuschieri heard that Mr Grech had worked at the Malta Drydocks as a pattern maker between 1974 and 2008.

His rare and enormous tumour was very common in persons exposed to asbestos

In 2013 he was diagnosed as suffering with mesothelioma – a lung cancer caused by continuous exposure to asbestos fibres – and passed away a year later, at the age of 57.

His heirs, Susan Grech and her children Alison, Brenda Lee and Jacob, argued that the €30,000 awarded by the first court was too low, considering that Mr Grech had to retire early from work due to his illness.

They presented evidence to show that had he not died so young, he would have earned nearly €60,000 until retirement.

Asbestos is also found in lagging on old pipes. Photo: Chris Sant FournierAsbestos is also found in lagging on old pipes. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The court upheld their claims and increased the compensation previously granted by the first court to €89,434.

The second dock worker, Mr Fenech, died in 1997 at the age of 55 from a serious case of mesothelioma four years after he started to show symptoms of the illness. He had worked as an assistant boiler maker at the Malta Drydocks since 1976.

His rare and enormous tumour was very common in persons exposed to asbestos, the court heard. Products made from asbestos were installed on ships as in the case, for example, of pipe lagging systems.

The medical evidence showed Mr Fenech had developed the tumour as a direct result of exposure to asbestos and the autopsy results confirmed this conclusion.

In their case against the Chief Government Medical Officer and the Attorney General, his children, James and Dorothy Fenech, argued their father’s fundamental right to life had been breached as a result of the asbestos exposure.

The Constitutional Court agreed that the €18,000 awarded by the first court was too low when considering that their father had to retire early due to the cancer. It compared the compensation awarded to similar victims and increased the figure to €26,000. In the other appeal, the court heard that Anthony Pulis had been a welder with Panta Lesco Limited since 1970 until he retired in 2007 due to back pain. He passed away in 2015 as a result of malignant mesothelioma.

His widow Maria Assunta Pulis and his son Jesmond Pulis had been awarded €20,000 but failed to convince the Constitutional Court that the amount was too low. 

Lawyer Juliette Galea represented the three families.

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