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BHP ordered to pay record $2.2m to terminally ill asbestos victim

Date

Paul Bibby

A former BHP worker who was exposed to asbestos while working at the Newcastle steelworks has won a landmark $2.2 million damages claim against the resources and manufacturing giant.

Steven Dunning, 54, is suffering from terminal mesothelioma as a consequence of the asbestos dust he inhaled while working on BHP's steel blast furnaces as a 19-year-old in the early 1980s.

On Thursday, the Dust and Diseases Tribunal found that BHP had negligently exposed Mr Dunning to the asbestos, ordering it to pay him $2.2 in damages.

This is the highest amount of damages awarded in the tribunal's history and marks the first time BHP has been ordered to pay compensation to a former employee of the Newcastle steelworks with incurable mesothelioma.

"He broke down when I rang him and told him," Mr Dunning's wife, Roma, told Fairfax Media on Thursday.

"The main part of it for him was that his family was looked after - that's the thing he really cared about."

One of the lawyers who brought the action, Joanna Wade, said the verdict was a significant victory for Mr Dunning and his family but "it does not take away from the fact that he is dealing with an incurable, terminal disease as a result of BHP’s negligence”.

“BHP has fought this case for almost four years, arguing every available legal point," Ms Wade said in a written statement released by law firm Slater and Gordon.

During the course of the six-week trial, it emerged that BHP knew there was no safe level of exposure to asbestos.

Despite this, the court heard that the company continued to use the substance until 1985. 

Mrs Dunning said she was disgusted by the fervour and determination with which BHP pursued the matter through the courts, rather than "standing up and accepting responsibility for their actions".

"It was disgusting. They just drag it out and drag it out until the poor victim has passed away, all so they can get off a little bit lighter.

"Do you think any of those executives calling the shots are getting sick? Absolutely not. I just really want to urge anyone else whose sick from asbestos to come forward. Hopefully now BHP will be more accountable."

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