The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Asbestos victims: Switzerland must pay compensation to surviving dependents

Updated at 13 Feb 2024 2:40 pm

The European Court of Human Rights has once again found Switzerland guilty of violating the right to a fair trial in an asbestos case. It has awarded a widow and her son compensation of CHF 20,800.

As in other cases, the disease only broke out after the absolute limitation period of ten years that used to apply had expired. Today it is 20 years. The patient was able to file a criminal complaint for grievous bodily harm himself. In 2006, however, he died during the ongoing proceedings.

His wife and son took the matter further and demanded compensation under civil law from Eternit AG, two sons of the former company owner and SBB. The Federal Supreme Court rejected their claim in November 2019, citing the statute of limitations.

The Lausanne judges had waited for the revision of the statute of limitations law. For this reason alone, the proceedings stood still for four and a half years. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has therefore also condemned Switzerland for the length of the proceedings.

Victimizer placed above victim

In its decision, the Court writes that there is no scientifically recognized maximum latency period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of cancer. It could take 15 to 45 years or even longer for the disease to break out. According to the ECtHR, this circumstance must be taken into account when determining the limitation period.

This did not happen in the present case. The Swiss judiciary had assumed that the limitation period had begun to run with the last exposure to asbestos in 1972. The affected person therefore had no opportunity to act within the time limit.

Furthermore, the Court criticizes the Swiss judiciary for giving more weight to the legal security of the persons responsible for the damage than to the right of the victims to have their case judged by a court.

The deceased lived in his childhood from 1961 to 1972 in the immediate vicinity of the Eternit factory site in Niederurnen GL in a house that belonged to Eternit AG. (Case 4976/20)


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