The heirs of a former dockyard worker who died following his exposure to asbestos for 28 years have been granted almost €150,000 in compensation after a constitutional court found that the man’s right to life had been breached.

The Constitutional Court substantially increased the compensation awarded by the First Hall of the Civil Court which had previously awarded the family €35,000 in pecuniary damages and €5,000 in moral damages, increasing them to €119,400 and €28,000 respectively.

Chief Justice Joseph Azzo-pardi, Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr Justice Anthony Ellul, presiding over the Constitutional Court, heard how Alexander Falzon worked at the dockyard as a carpenter between 1980 and 2008.

He was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in November 2016 when he was just 54 and because of exposure to asbestos at his place of work. He spent two years fighting cancer but died in April 2018.

No effective precautionary measures

His son was just eight when Falzon was diagnosed and had turned 10 when he lost his father. His family argued that the compensation awarded by the first court was too low, considering that Falzon had to stop working early due to his illness.

They presented evidence to show that had he not died so young, he would have earned much more until retirement as a carpenter and a handyman.

The court heard them claim that in spite of the harmful effects caused through exposure to asbestos, the effects of which had long been known in the scientific and medical fields, the authorities had not taken effective precautionary measures to safeguard workers.

Asbestos was once regarded as a miracle mineral fibre and used in a wide range of materials installed in homes and offices. Experts believe that Malta has thousands of cubic metres of asbestos still installed in buildings.

The material was also extensively used for flooring, in wallboards and in corrugated roofs.

Health risks from asbestos arise when it is damaged or disturbed, causing microscopic fibres to become airborne.

When inhaled, tiny fibres penetrate deep inside the lungs and chest cavity. They can also enter the body via the digestive system through ingestion.

Asbestos results in conditions known collectively as ‘asbestosis’, which include lung cancer. There is a latency period of 20 to 30 years between exposure to hazards and the development of the disease.

In quantifying the damage, the court considered that Falzon had retired from the dockyard in 2008 and continued working as a self-employed carpenter and would have worked until retirement when he was 65.

It therefore,ordered the state to pay Falzon’s heirs €119,400 in damages for loss of earnings as well as €28,000 in moral damages. 

Lawyer Juliette Galea appeared for the Falzon family.

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