The fight against asbestos has a date marked in red on the judicial calendar: March 15, 2021. On that day, the Supreme Court recognized that these materials can also be harmful to those who live near the industries where they are have manufactured or used. After nine years of lawsuits against the Uralita company, the court ruled in favor of 39 residents of Cerdanyola del Vallès, represented by the Ronda Collective. The sentence can be read in full on our website.
A battle was won, not the war. Uralita, which has changed its name, urged before the sentence the bankruptcy or voluntary bankruptcy due to "the impossibility of dealing with the claims derived from the manufacture of fiber cement with asbestos", its star product. The Supreme Court imposed compensations totaling more than 2.3 million euros, but how, where and from whom to collect them?
The Ronda Collective acknowledges that it will continue to fight so that the clients receive every last penny that justice has granted them and so that a sentence that was much applauded and praised in its day does not now remain on wet paper. Uralita, these sources allege, earned millionaires in revenue in its history and had reserves of funds for eventual lawsuits before the bankruptcy.
Lawyers Esther Costa and Esther Pérez successfully defended before the high court that the inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause "different health pathologies, not only to the workers who handle it in the industrial process of its transformation, but also to the relatives who live there". The operators, as the judgment recognized, returned home "with contaminated work clothes".
But, in addition to their relatives, "the people who lived nearby" were also affected by the emanations and waste from the factory. Uralita, which is now called Corporación Empresarial de Materials de Construcciones, tried to demonstrate that there was no evidence of damage due to "environmental exposure" and recalled that the factory had always had permits in order while it had been active, from the year 1907 to 1997.
The company added that in those years "the risks" alleged by the other party were not known or foreseeable. The plaintiffs replied that this pernicious incidence has been known "since the first decades of the last century". And they emphasized that there are two types of passive victims of asbestos: domestic (that is, relatives of workers or direct victims) and environmental (neighbors).
One after the other, all the judicial instances were favorable to the litigants. The first was, on November 21, 2012, the titular magistrate of the court of first instance number 96 of Madrid, who ruled in his favor, although he reduced the amount of the compensations. The sentence was appealed before section 21a of the Madrid Court, once again without success.
The only thing left for Uralita was to allege to the Supreme Court that it was indefensible for an "arbitrary, illogical and unreasonable" decision. But the court understood that complying with legal and regulatory precautions does not exempt from civil liability, especially when the firm was aware "at least since the 1940s" of the "indisputable health risk" of its activity. Now it is only necessary that the sentence can be executed.