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Human rights Asbestos victims achieve victory at European court

Asbestos was widely used before its dangers were known; now it has to be removed by workers wearing protective suits

(Keystone)

Victims of asbestos exposure and their surviving dependants achieved a victory on Tuesday when the European Court of Human Rights overruled a decision by Switzerland’s highest instance, which had restricted their right to seek compensation.

Swiss courts had previously turned down claims from victims on the grounds that they had filed their lawsuits much more than 10 years from their last contact with the fibrous mineral, and were thus outside the country’s statute of limitations.

Hans Moor, who inhaled asbestos dust during his work at an engineering factory in the period between 1965 and 1978, was diagnosed with cancer caused by asbestos in 2004 and died the following year.

Under the Swiss regulations, Moor would have had to claim compensation in 1988, or 16 years before his cancer was diagnosed.

ʻNot permissibleʼ

The court in Strasbourg ruled by six to one in favour of Moor’s family, saying that that the way Switzerland was dealing with the statutes of limitations was not permissible.

Switzerland can now take the case to the court’s Grand Chamber if it wishes to challenge it. Should the ruling be confirmed, the Swiss practice will have to be changed.

More than 1,300 people have died in Switzerland as a result of having inhaled asbestos fibres and it is estimated that at least as many will die over the next years as a result of the fibrous mineral.

Asbestos becomes dangerous when the fibres are inhaled. They apparently stay in the lung tissue for ever, triggering inflammation – and only decades later malignant tumours.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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