James Hardie and CSR – Allegations of “Collusion”
The asbestos litigation pot continues to boil in Australia. Over the last couple of weeks, CSR was denied the opportunity to split its business, a topic I keep hoping to get to, but life is busy. For now, here is a new article about plaintiff’s seeking to amend a complaint to seek to prove up purported collusion between Hardie and CSR. How much does that sound like US litigation ? The text also is pasted below.
Hardie, CSR ‘colluded’, sufferer says LEONIE WOOD
February 8, 2010 .
THE building products manufacturers James Hardie and CSR have been accused in court of joining forces during the 1960s and ’70s in a bid to dissuade regulatory authorities from restricting or controlling the use of their potentially lethal asbestos products.
The court has also heard allegations that James Hardie and CSR deliberately did not mark their company names on asbestos-laden products so that they could conceal which company manufactured them – a move which, the court heard, would make it harder to identify which company had liability for future claims of potential injury or disease.
The allegations emerged on Friday before Justice Terry Forrest in the Victorian Supreme Court during preliminary proceedings ahead of a trial in which a Melbourne man, Robert Berengo, is claiming damages from James Hardie’s asbestos liability fund, Amaca, and from CSR.
The fresh allegations come just days after Justice Margaret Stone in the Federal Court in Sydney cruelled CSR’s plans to spin off its sugar business, citing concerns about the company’s future ability to meet asbestos-related claims.
Justice Forrest will decide tomorrow if Mr Berengo’s lawyers can amend his statement of claim to incorporate the new allegations of collusive behaviour.
If the judge allows the allegations to proceed, it may pave a new route for claimants in asbestos-related cases who often struggle to prove which of the two Australian asbestos manufacturers was responsible for products that caused their asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Counsel for both James Hardie and CSR criticised the form of the proposed amendments, with Graeme Uren, QC, for CSR describing them in court as ”a porridge of assertions that don’t lend easily to a legal conclusion”.
Mr Berengo was a young boy in the early 1970s when he accompanied his father, a builder, to properties where asbestos-cement sheeting and other asbestos products would be sanded, altered or removed.
The proposed allegations are that James Hardie and CSR, which owned Wunderlich, had an agreement or arrangement about how they would influence Australian public opinion and regulatory authorities in the 1970s, and that they co-ordinated their lobbying of authorities and responses to media articles to stifle public concerns about asbestos.
Counsel for Mr Berengo, John Gordon, told the court that his client planned to allege that ”over a considerable period of time, the two companies … formed arrangements, agreements or an understanding to act together to influence the public debate on the dangers of asbestos, and to influence regulatory authorities on the control of, and the use of, the asbestos”.
He said that, as a result, the public was not warned by the companies of the risks and dangers of using asbestos products.
CSR sold Wunderlich to James Hardie in 1976. The case is due to begin on February 15.