Rio Tinto have lost their appeal against the compensation claim of asbestos victim and former Gove alumina refinery worker Zorko Zabic.
The High Court appeal against Zabic’s common law claim was thrown out this week, setting a precedent for workers compensation claims in the Northern Territory, and ensuring Zabic will receive $425,000 in compensation.
The first Supreme Court ruling against Zabic’s claim in January this year was based on the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, which prevented such compensation claims being made in the courts after 1987.
That finding was overturned by the NT Court of Appeal in March as Zabic’s malignant mesothelioma was the result of an injury caused by inhaling asbestos dust during his period of employment at Alcan Gove from 1974 to 1977.
Shine Lawyers maintained that Zabic’s entitlement to a common law claim remained intact as the inhalation of asbestos fibre took place before 1987.
Rio Tinto said their High Court appeal was no about trying to deny Zabic’s ability to access compensation, but that he should have sought it through the Northern Territory workers compensation scheme as dictated by the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.
“We accept the decision of the High Court, and whilst disappointed with the outcome, are grateful that the matter has now been resolved for all involved,” a spokesman said.
“We will wait to review the detailed judgement of the High Court to understand the reasoning behind the decision.
“The reason we pursued this matter was simply to confirm what has been widely understood to be the correct application of the relevant Northern Territory legislation, that claims such as Mr Zabic’s should be made under the statutory workers compensation scheme rather than the common law.”
The company also extended its deepest sympathies to Zabic and his family.
Shine Lawyers solicitor and representative for Zabic, Roger Singh, said the case set a precedent for workers injured in the Northern Territory prior to 1987, who would now be allowed to use common law claims to get entitlements and compensation without using the existing workers compensation scheme.
"Today's decision is a win for workers, a win for their families and a win for humanity," Singh said.
"This decision will pave the way for the many asbestos victims in the Northern Territory who have previously been denied justice to come forward and seek redress for themselves and their families.”