Asbestos claimant in tears before court

An asbestos exposure victim seeking almost $6 million in compensation from James Hardie has broken down in tears while talking about what will happen to his sick wife once he’s gone.

Queenslander Syd Lacey developed terminal mesothelioma during his work with company products while employed as a carpenter in the 1970s and ’80s.

The 73-year-old is suing James Hardie for $5.9 million, most of which his lawyers say will be used to help care for his wife Marion once he can’t and ultimately dies.

On the opening day of the case on Tuesday, Brisbane Supreme Court heard video evidence from the Laceys recorded at their Noosaville home in April.

Mr Lacey, who is undergoing a new medical trial to help treat his disease, described the 24-hour care he provides to his wife who has epilepsy, anxiety and is profoundly deaf.

While reading out diary entries about her seizures, Mr Lacey said over the years she had broken several bones, suffered third-degree burns and cut her face.

“She won’t have a shower unless I’m sitting on a stool in the bathroom,” he said.

“When she says ‘Syd’, I just don’t get there quick enough. That’s why now I’m just there all the time.”

Under cross-examination he broke down in tears at the prospect of what would happen when he was no longer able or present to take care of Mrs Lacey.

“What happens when I go”, he asked. “When I’m here she knows she’s safe.”

Mrs Lacey said her husband helped her with everything from dressing to housework and shopping.

When asked how she raised two children when her husband worked, she said the frequency of the seizures had increased since they were young.

Mrs Lacey also started crying when she spoke about what triggered her anxiety.

“All that’s happening with Syd,” she said.

“The doctor said ‘you’d be lucky to live six months’…who am I going to go to?”

James Hardie, now known as Amaca Pty Ltd, has conceded it is liable for Mr Lacey’s illness.

But in dispute is how much it should pay the couple in damages and for the ongoing care of Mrs Lacey as a result of his reduced life expectancy.

Mr Lacey’s barrister Michael Grant-Taylor QC said Mrs Lacey’s medical problems were at the heart of the compensation claim.

Justice David Boddice asked if it was therefore a case based largely on “moral obligation”.

“There are elements of morality in the obligation of a spouse to extend care and services as appropriate,” Mr Grant-Taylor said.

Maurice Blackburn lawyers, representing Mr Lacey, say if successful the case could set a precedent.

Principal Jonathan Walsh said the retired carpenter was also seeking exemplary damages that recognise James Hardie’s alleged “reckless indifference” in continuing to sell asbestos products it knew could be deadly.