Clarification of Turin Judgment 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



In the aftermath of the Turin verdict of February 13, 2012 condemning asbestos defendants Stephen Schmidheiny and Jean-Louis de Cartier de Marchienne for their part in the asbestos deaths of thousands of Italians (see: Landmark Victory for Italian Asbestos Victims), many questions are being asked about the details of the 128-page ruling.

Lawyer Sergio Bonetto, who represented some of the Italian asbestos victims in this case, provided clarification regarding several issues of immediate concern. When asked whether the defendants would have to pay the damages awarded by the criminal court immediately, Bonetto said: “Formally they must pay. [However,] if they do not pay it is not directly the responsibility of the penal tribunal.” He went on to explain that the civil parties could ask the civil tribunal to intervene to obtain immediate execution of the orders, but that the tribunal would have no direct way to proceed if there were no property to be seized in Italy. In that case, the Italian civil court would have to make recourse to civil courts in Belgium and Switzerland. How this would turn out was, he reflected, “very uncertain.”

Responding to a question about the effect of this verdict on further civil proceedings and the timescale of future cases, Bonetto said: “For an effect of the penal decision on civil procedures, the decision has to be definitive. That means at the end of the three levels including appeal court and cassation [Supreme Court]; that means several years.” However, he went on to point out that the decision had been very clear about the hazards that existed; which made civil proceedings “formally possible,” provided the plaintiffs could prove that their diseases resulted from those self-same hazards. The significance of the judgement in lawyer Bonetto's view was that the judges sent out a clear message: putting others in danger was always a criminal act, showing disrespect for the law. If the defendants didn't pay anything it was entirely possible that the appeal court could impose even higher penalties than the lower court.

In the meantime, mobilization of the asbestos victims in Casale Monferrato and other towns which were part of the historic court case continues with a roundtable and press conference in Casale on February 14 followed by a general assembly two days later attended by 500+ members of the Association of Asbestos Victims' Families (Associazione Famigliari Vittime Amianto). A general assembly held today in Cavagnolo, another town contaminated by Eternit's asbestos, will ensure that efforts to secure justice for the victims, decontaminate affected towns and undertake medical research of asbestos-related diseases will continue.

February 22, 2012



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