Landmark Ruling by Spanish Court 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



This Summer, a Spanish court issued a landmark decision which, for the first time, compensated victims whose exposure to asbestos took place environmentally. The 45 claimants lived in the Barcelona suburb where an asbestos-cement factory owned by Uralita, a multinational construction materials company, was located.1 Uralita, which is appealing the decision, was ordered to pay a total of 3.9 million euros ($4.9 m) by the Madrid Court for “damage to the lungs, leading in some cases to death,” to the injured or surviving family members.2

Other facts about this case gleaned from a Spanish language article (with the dubious assistance of a babel translation) are as follows:

  • the processing of these lawsuits by the judicial system took 7 years;
  • the decision of the Madrid court prioritized public health over economic interests;
  • the sentence awarded the claimants' moral damages because of anxiety and negative impact on their quality of life;
  • although Uralita claimed that it complied with national legislation, the court ruled that as the asbestos hazard was so well known, the company had an obligation to take precautionary measures.3

Asbestos was widely used in Spain during the 20th century. According to a paper published in 2008 “… around 800 companies (in Spain) used 2.6 million tonnes of asbestos between 1900 and 2000. Use was especially high between 1960 and the mid 1980s, reaching its peak in 1972 (113,000 tonnes). Asbestos regulations were first introduced in 1984 and asbestos was banned in 2001…”4 Preliminary attempts to monitor the fallout from occupational exposures have established that, as elsewhere, asbestos-exposed workers in Spain have sustained injuries. Of 12,613 at-risk workers examined between 2001-2008 as part of a national program for monitoring the health of workers exposed to mineral fibers, more than 10% displayed asbestos-related pathologies.5

August 13, 2010


1 According to Wikipedia: “In 2008, Uralita's sales reached 1007 million euros, out of which more than 55% was made outside Spain. Uralita has its corporate offices in Madrid. On December 31, 2008 it possessed a personnel of 4006 employees and 41 factories in operation in Europe, and two under construction.”

2 Spanish Court Issues Landmark Asbestos Ruling. Sol Times Newspaper Issue 246 Costa Almeria Edition. July 2010.

3 URALITA, el Juez, el amianto y los pueblos contaminados. (Uralita, the Judge, the asbestos and the contaminated town.) July 25, 2010.

4 Pitarque S, Cleries R et al. Mesothelioma mortality in men: Trends during 1977 2001 and projections for 2002 2016 in Spain Occup Environ Med 2008;65:279-282.

5 Medina F. Asbestos in Spain. March 2010.



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