Michelin Guilty of Negligence
On November 16, 2006, a French Court issued a plaintiffs' verdict against tire giant Michelin which had negligently exposed workers to hazardous levels of asbestos in the 1960s and 1970s. During the hearings in September 2006, claimants' lawyer Jean-Paul Teissoniere alleged that Michelin had deliberately kept workers in the dark about the asbestos hazards. The court in Clermont-Ferrand, where the company is headquartered, found the company guilty in cases brought by a former worker and the wives of three deceased workers who contracted asbestos-related cancer. Between them, the four men had insulated 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) of pipes with asbestos every month until 1973. The finding of gross corporate negligence means that the value of compensation payouts will be doubled.
On behalf of the company, Francoise Rault said:
Asbestos was used as a thermal insulator at a time when the risks to employees was not well-known Of course, if we had known that asbestos endangered employees' health, we would have done everything to eliminate the risks.1
Ms. Rault did not say whether the company will appeal the verdict. CAPER, a group representing the asbestos-injured, welcomed the ruling.
In France, asbestos-exposed workers can make claims to government schemes for compensation and benefits. In 1998, a fund for asbestos workers to take early retirement (FCAATA) was established; claimants over the age of 50 receive benefits equal to 65% of their salary plus a lump-sum payment from their employer. In 2000, a national indemnification fund (FIVA) was established to compensate occupationally, para-occupationally2 or environmentally exposed asbestos sufferers. As of May 31, 2005, FIVA had opened 22,462 victim files; payments range from to 20,000 euros for pleural plaques to 112,000 euros for mesothelioma. It was predicted that indemnification paid by FIVA would reach 600 million euros in 2005 and 570 million euros in 2006.3
November 19, 2006
1 The Associated Press. Court Finds Michelin Guilty on Asbestos. November 16, 2006. http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8LECKJG0.htm
2 Typical para-occupational exposure is that of wives exposed to asbestos fibers on their husbands' work clothes.
3 Manaouil C., Graser M., Jarde O. Compensation of Asbestos Victims in France. Medicine and Law 2006 Sep;25(3):435-43.