Eternit Pre-Trial Manoeuvre in Italy
In the run-up to the biggest legal action to be held in Turin, an offer has been made to compensate some asbestos plaintiffs and contribute funds for medical research into the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.1 In March 2009, scarcely one month before the litigants were due in court, news was circulating that Becon, a company associated with one of the Eternit executives against whom charges have been brought, would pay a set amount to residents of Casale Monferrato diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.2 This is the first time that an offer has been made to compensate asbestos-injured claimants who are not former employees. As far as can be ascertained, Becon will only honor claims brought by residents of Casale Monferrato diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases since 1988;3 accepting Becon's payment precludes the recipient from participating in the class action.4
According to corporate spin doctors the offer, which was motivated by Swiss tycoon Stephen Schmidheiny's sense of solidarity with the injured, is not an admission of Eternit's liability. Schmidheiny and Baron Louis de Cartier de Marchienne;, two former Eternit executives, are the accused in the class action brought by the Italian Prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello. It has been reported that while the maximum award per individual is 30,000 euros, the total cost to Eternit could be in the tens of millions of euros.5
The March 2009 offer was the third official attempt to make this case go away. According to campaigners from Casale Monferrato:
Feedback from Casale Monferrato indicates that the majority of local people are not being tempted by the offer. The Committee of the Asbestos Victims' Families and its President Ms. Romana Blascotti Pavesi are firmly against this proposal. They have highlighted the fact that this is the second time that a unilateral compensation package has been offered without any negotiations taking place; the input of asbestos victims and their representatives in this process has not been welcomed or accepted. Even though the sums proffered are insignificant compared to the damage sustained, the fact that the offer has been made at all is considered by campaigners to constitute an admission of responsibility for this huge and unbelievable massacre.
Asbestos victims from other countries where Eternit pollution caused epidemics of deadly diseases will be watching the developments in this case with great interest. Brazilian campaigner Fernanda Giannasi, Co-founder of the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed, commented:
For 55 years, Eternit operated its biggest plant in Brazil in the town of Osasco; for 40 years the plant was under the direct control of the Swiss Eternit Group and for 13 years it was indirectly controlled by Eternit through the company's active involvement with the new management the Saint-Gobain Group. For decades, asbestos pollution from the Eternit factories endangered the lives of thousands of local people. Not one Brazilian asbestos victim has ever received compensation for environmental exposure to Eternit asbestos. We will be carefully monitoring developments in Turin. In the meantime, we send a message of solidarity to all those who are suffering from these diseases in Italy and elsewhere.
March 11, 2009
1 Kazan-Allen L. Italian Case Against Eternit. January 25, 2009.
2 Bruna N. Eternit Pre-Trial Manoeuvre to impoverish the plaintiff. March 11, 2009
3 The date of 1988 was set as it was 15 years after the Swiss Eternit Group took over control of the asbestos-cement factory in Casale Monferrato (1973). It is thought that 15 years is the minimum period for the exposure to asbestos to result in the manifestation of disease. Becon will not accept claims from residents of other Italian towns where Eternit asbestos is alleged to have caused environmentally contracted asbestos-related diseases.
4 Eternit/Affaire de l'amiante: Schmidheiny pourrait verser plusieurs mio EUR. March 6, 2009.
5 La Eternit è pronta a risarcire gli abitanti di Casale Monferrato. March 5, 2009