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IBM Cleared in San Jose Cancer Liability Suit

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the hidden-costs dept.

The Courts 241

kbeech writes "A jury In San Jose returned a unanimous verdict in favor of IBM in a case where plaintiffs claimed the company kept medical information on their condition from them." Slashdot hasn't covered this well, but evidence in the lawsuit has suggested that employees were heavily exposed to chemicals and that IBM was aware that their employees got cancer at higher rates than the general population.

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FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408066)

FP

fp (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408067)

big ups to the GNAA

GNAA --It feels good in the sphincter (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408068)

Hello ghey niggaz!!!!!

It seems harsh (5, Insightful)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408097)

... if they truly were exposed with the company knowing about it, that they were denied some compensation for that. It seems the judge did them no favours by allowing them to take their case outside the California employees system, because the burden of proof is much higher in a "normal" court (as well as the damages...)

I wonder, if they'd stayed put, would they have won something rather than nothing... I always think it's easy to make a snap judgement based on your feelings for the parties involved though - if they were found against, you have to assume that they couldn't prove it... Harsh, though.

Simon

Re:It seems harsh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408199)

we do not know what happened and certianly werent on the jury. any thing that is said about it is all useless chatter that isn't based on anything but running of the mouth and opinions.

-chris humphries

Re:It seems harsh (4, Insightful)

wol (10606) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408207)

If they stayed in the workers compensation system, they would definitely have received some compensation. They elected, instead, to try the lotto and, apparently, the jury did not agree with them.

My IBM experience (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408368)

I used to work at IBM Essex VT facility in the Fab doing robotic maintenance. The truth of the matter is that we were exposed to all kinds of horrible chemicals. For instance I one started coughing up blood because a machine had exploded (literally) and there was a cloud of pure HLC in the core. Could I have sued IBM because of this. absolutely NOT!!!!

The thing that gets them off the hook is that their procedure for dealing with any chemicals is all OSHA approved and the equipment to comply is available. The problem is that it is not possible to do your job when in all the gear. If I am supposed to don a SCBA unit, chemical gloves and chemical suit ever time we detected a small TCS leak in a machine I would never get my job done. Also it is a real pain the ass to try and fix small precision robotics while wearing all that shit.

How can you sue a company because you refuse to comply with safety procedures. You can't. The catch 22 is IBM knows you won't follow procedure and doesn't expect you to. They expect you to get the job done fast and right. If you can't do that because you follow procedure to a T you WILL be fired. (at least in IBM Essex)

That's my rant. IBM sucks. They are both the best employer (in terms of pay and benefits) and the worst employer (in terms of actually caring about their employees) I have ever worked for.

AC AKA Low Pressure ASM EPI tech.

Catch 22 (4, Interesting)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408637)

In the Navy I was asked to do a bunch of painting in an enclosed compartment. I went to the safety office to get an appropriate resperator. They said - "We don't have the right equipment to fit you for one. So you can't have one." I said, "So since we can't be sure the fit will be perfect I have to do the work with no protection at all?" The answer- "Yes." Brilliant.

Re:It seems harsh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408380)

Workers Compensation covers negligence only. It does not cover intentional acts. Probably what happened was they claimed IBM intentionally exposed them to the chemicals. California may also allow you to get out of workers comp. for gross negligence.

Worker's Comp (5, Insightful)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408497)

Worker's compensation schemes guarantee a payout that slides on a scale: three weeks for losing a finger, etc. In return, the employer is strictly liable for worker's injuries on the job. It doesn't matter whether the injury was the employer's fault, he has to pay for it. However, these compensations seem normatively inadequate when it comes to long-term health illnesses such as work-related cancers and the like.

Workers can get out of the comp system and into tort law for intentional or reckless actions by the employer. If the boss shoots an employee, for example, the death is not to be paid for by the worker's comp system. They seem to be arguing recklessness here. (The article, which I read, by the way, does not say.) This means that management knew of the risk of great bodily harm to the employees and ignored the risk.

Re:Worker's Comp (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408546)

Just to clarify further; the employer usually does not pay directly for workers comp. They get an insurance policy; just like they would to insure the facilities, employee medical coverage, etc... It's when the insurer refuses to pay, disputes coverage, doesn't pay enough, etc... that the lawsuits start happening.

Finally a win for the good guys! (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408100)

I am personally sick and tired of sleazy trial lawyers like John Edwards taking enormous sums of money for ridiculous lawsuits. Here in Pennsylvania doctors are flreeing to other states in droves because of what the trial lawyers have done with medical malpractice. And who is the number one sleaseballs? Why the son of Senator Arlen Spector! Gov Rendall is so deep in the pockets of these lawyers it is sickening. They and their ilk have brought a crisis in medicine in Pennsylvania. Just another reason to vote for Bush and the Reps--Kerry/Edwards are beholden to the interests of the trial lawyers.

Re:Finally a win for the good guys! (3, Interesting)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408586)

A conservative estimate is that 30,000 Americans are killed because of medical malpractice each year. Perhaps doctors should try not killing people before ranting about lawyers. If they weren't negligent, they wouldn't be liable. Anyway, doctors are acting greedy every time they refuse to save lives because they can't make enough money. Why do we trash only the lawyers for being greedy?

http://www.acponline.org/journals/ecp/novdec00/s ho rt_essays.htm

Fantastic! (-1, Offtopic)

razjml (700558) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408108)

I think I speak for everyone when I say this is a very good thing.

Re:Fantastic! (2, Funny)

grub (11606) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408222)


IBM Spokesperson Joseph Camel agrees.

In other news... (5, Funny)

enrico_suave (179651) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408110)

Willy wonka cleared of liability/wrong doing in the Gloop, Beauregarde, and Teevee vs IBM suit.

e.

Re:In other news... (1)

enrico_suave (179651) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408295)

Dammit it I meant...

Willy wonka cleared of liability/wrong doing in the Gloop, Beauregarde, and Teevee vs Wonka Enterprises suit.

IBM .... (-1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408115)

I also thought my time working at IBM caused me infertility ... then I got a chick pregnant, so I guess I was wrong, and I had to stop using that line as an excuse for not wearing a condom.

Conundrum (5, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408118)

This situation is a hard one for AnCaps like myself to resolve.

While it seems like IBM may have had some knowledge of statistsically higher death rates among these workers, there is also the belief that I hold that every worker are responsible to find out what risks a certain job holds.

Employers and employees really are on equal ground more than the general media wants you to believe. Both parties gain a profit from the jobs performed. If an employee wants to perform a job at a certain income, why is it the employer's role to let them know of any risks beforehand, unless the employee explicitly requests a risk assessment?

Cancer is such an odd condition. I honestly believe cancer isn't directly caused by one simple situation. So many variables can go into it. Smoking may cause cancer, but I believe smoking doesn't -- it is only a risk factor. Did these employees all eat regularly at a certain facility? Did they all live near factories that may have also contributed to the enhanced risk?

I read all the articles, and I'm fairly sure I agree with the jury that IBM should not be held liable. On the other hand, if employees asked in advance about the risks involved, and IBM blatantly lied, then they should be held guilty.

One thing is clear: the lesson learned is that you should always ask your employer in advance of any health risks involved in future work, and get their reply in writing.

Re:Conundrum (3, Interesting)

pvt_medic (715692) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408169)

what was included in the MSDS? that should have general info about the safety of chemicals and should be freely accessible. The employees should be responsible to look things up in there. I would say that if a chemical causes a higher rate of cancer and they know it and dont provide basic precautions for the employees that would be wrong, and also if they had the data that the chemicals did cause cancer and there was an intentional coverup that would also be wrong. But the fact that IBM tracks the death rate doesnt imply guilt. That shows that they are tracking data because of an interest their action based off that data is the deciding fact.

Re:Conundrum (3, Insightful)

pacsman (629749) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408186)

I agree with the parent. If my job involved "foul-smelling chemical mixtures" that got all over me every day, I'd find out what was in there. On of the plaintifs said if he knew, he'd have walked off the job, so saying they had no choice isn't an option here. These are tech jobs, as well, so it's not like we're talking minimum-wage-slave type no-thinkers, these are supposedly people with some sense. Whether or not the chemicals were actually responcible- who knows. This is similar to the McDonalds coffee lady, except this time they didn't win. You are the only person responsible for your life, suing someone for not telling you dousing yourself in chemicals is bad shouldn't be an option.

Re:Conundrum (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408194)

Employers and employees really are on equal ground more than the general media wants you to believe.

So Joe Worker, who makes say $50K/yr is more on "equal ground" than a multi-billion dollar international corporation with plenty of lawyers and fingers in politicians pockets? Do you really believe this? I'm no liberal (in fact I'm probably pretty close to your political belief system) but that statement is pretty asinine.

Re:Conundrum (4, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408335)

Yes, Joe Worker is on equal ground with any employer. Joe Worker can refuse that job. If Mike Worker believes the job is a good one, he'll do it. If Joe Worker, Mike Worker, and Peter Worker all decide that the job risks aren't worth the rewards, and Big Business Inc can't find anyone to accept that job, the laws of supply and demand come into play as they always do. The Supply of workers at that pay is low, the Demand for those workers, if high, will dictate that the Price to pay for this work goes up. It will continue to rise until someone accepts it. On the other hand, Big Business Inc may use the laws of supply and demand by lowering the risk of the job and take safety precautions which may entice the market of available workers to accept the new safer job at a certain rate.

It is actually simple, not asinine.

confidential or unknown risks? (2, Informative)

rbird76 (688731) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408667)

In some cases, the procedures, compounds used, etc. may be either trade secrets or confidential knowledge. Thus prospective employees would only know that they don't know what risks are included in the job, while the employer (whose obviously knows their own trade secrets) would know those risks.

Some fields (process chemistry, for example) would imply certain risks but because the company doesn't know what chemicals will be used in a process or has that knowledge under NDA or trade secret protection, you could not know and evaluate many of the specific risks associated with a job before you took it. In addition, employees might not know the risk of a job because the risk from a chemical is unknown (either willfully or innocently). In most cases now, people take precautions as if something were assumed toxic, but in earlier times, for example, workers were exposed to benzene (solvent) and p,p'-benzidine (rubber agent?) only later to find out that the compounds were carcinogens (leukemia and bladder cancer, resp.)

Re:Conundrum (2, Insightful)

desolation angel (447816) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408212)

You don't then accept that an employer has a duty of care to an employee?

An employee may not be able to assess to risks that handling certain chemicals pose. Is this their fault?

I couldn't disagree with you more.

Re:Conundrum (2, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408269)

That's your free choice to make.

In my opinion (as well as any AnCapper in general), Employers and Employees are equal. No one should force anyone to work, and no one should force anyone to employ. Employers offer a job, a salary, and a work condition. Employees can accept or deny it.

Re:Conundrum (1)

rokzy (687636) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408448)

and both get an equal share of the profits?

oh...

Re:Conundrum (2, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408477)

Why should an employee get an equal share of the profits?

The employer, be it an individual, a small group of individuals, or a corporation of individuals, is taking a risk with their time and money. Only the employer deserves the reward of profits. They also are the only ones who deserve the risk of bankruptcy.

An employee gets the reward they are worth -- pay, benefits, time preference of their schedule. Employees don't take the same risks the employers take.

If an employee is underpaid, its their own fault and problem. The market pays you what you are worth. If you are worth more than you're getting paid, find a better job.

Re:Conundrum (5, Informative)

DavidBrown (177261) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408614)

You will be interested to know that your view is the traditional view of the legal system. The appellate court opinions that I read while in law school concerning this subject were chock full of grandiose statements about the freedom of labor, and that if an employee wanted his employer to pay for his injuries then the employee could negotiate this right for himself as part of the labor contract. This, while perfectly sound on a libertarian/ancapper level, will not work in practice, because no employer would provide this "benefit" when there were plenty of workers out there who would take the job despite the risks. Workplace injuries therefore resulted in disabled workers with no money and no means of receiving compensation for their injuries and lost income.

The result of the courts' failure (rightfully or wrongfully, you decide) to deal with this issue is the worker's compensation insurance system created by the state legislatures. Ordinarily, an injured worker has only one recourse - a worker's comp. claim.

The IBM workers' case, however, was for "fraudulent concealment". The theory of their claim is that IBM knew of the risks and either negligently or intentionally failed to inform their workers of these risks. If the claim is true, then IBM would rightfully be liable - and I don't think that this would violate the precepts of ancappers - it's one thing to agree to accept certain risks associated with employment, but when the employer conceals these risks, the worker's acceptance is uninformed and is, from a legal standpoint, more or less void.

Apparently some key evidence (the IBM "mortality file") was deemed inadmissible. As an attorney, I am curious as to why this evidence was not admitted, and whether or not the plaintiffs will appeal because of it.

Re:Conundrum (4, Insightful)

B'Trey (111263) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408268)

It seems to me that if I hire you to go into harm's way, it is my responsibility to warn you of any dangers of which I am aware. I'm not familiar with the details of this case, so I am not saying that IBM should have been culpable. It's quite possible that the correct verdict was reached in this particular case.

However, in the general situation, this touches on similar issues to informed consent and implied warranty of fitness.

If I blind fold you and lead you down the street, then lead you into heavy traffic without telling you, am I not at least partly at fault for your injuries when you get hit? What if I manufacture a car, you buy one and the gas tank blows up as you're driving down the road? Am I in the clear because you failed to ask if the car was dangerous?

I believe you have the right to do pretty much anything you want so long as you do not violate the property or person of another. Putting someone in harm's way without informing them of that fact is a form of assault, as my actions may lead directly to harm to you, and you have not knowingly consented to accept the danger of the situation.

Re:Conundrum (3, Interesting)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408333)

Employers and employees really are on equal ground more than the general media wants you to believe.
Except that employees are easy to replace. How many people can afford to quit their job? Not too many. Most people have a family to support and bills to pay and don't live in their parents basement.
In theory employers and employees are on equal ground. But in practice an employe has to put up with whatever the employer decides. Unless he's got the support of a union.

Re:Conundrum (2, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408379)

I disagree with you completely.

Employees are not easy to replace. If a certain job has a lot of people willing to fill it (McDonald's), the pay scale will be LOW. That is because the Supply of workers is HIGH, the Demand for the job is LOW. HIGH SUPPLY + LOW DEMAND = LOW PRICE ("pay").

If your skills as a worker are in demand, your pay will be high.

How is this hard to understand? If you have bills to pay, those bills were incurred by your free will. If you are unskilled, you better be living at home and working hard to learn skills. If you gain skills, you can now gain additional higher bills.

Your post is fraudulent in assuming that people with high bills are unskilled. That is not my problem, or an employer's, if you take on big bills and don't have a skill to market to pay for them.

Re:Conundrum (1)

rokzy (687636) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408495)

wow, you really are screwed up.

"don't worry about those poor people, how dare they decide with their free will to need food without developing a valuable skill first."

Re:Conundrum (2, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408518)

Poor people? Who is poor? How many poor people are fat in this country? How many poor people have cell phones? How many poor people have cable TV?

Don't quote to me about the poor people. I don't see them. I've spent times at soup kitchens, and those poor people have mental problems, so I offer my help.

Most "poor people" by your standard are too lazy to go out and learn a skill. You can get by on McDonald's pay. After working at McDonald's for a year, you're making $9+ an hour. Get any job and prove your worth, and you won't be poor.

Re:Conundrum (2, Interesting)

johnnyb (4816) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408491)

"Except that employees are easy to replace."

Actually, I've found that employers are much easier to replace than employees. It takes 6-9 months to replace an employee, and that takes a LOT of time. In addition, they usually aren't up to full capacity for about 3 months, and in the first month they usually slow your operations down.

There are some jobs that aren't as hard to replace, but rarely in technology.

"But in practice an employe has to put up with whatever the employer decides. Unless he's got the support of a union."

Or decides to go into business for himself. Or decides to work for a more ethical company. Or decides to create a union.

Re:Conundrum (3, Insightful)

rm007 (616365) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408400)

Employers and employees really are on equal ground more than the general media wants you to believe. Both parties gain a profit from the jobs performed. If an employee wants to perform a job at a certain income, why is it the employer's role to let them know of any risks beforehand, unless the employee explicitly requests a risk assessment?

Your statement that both parties are on equal ground falls down in face of the information asymmetries that underly your questionning of whether the employer needs to let them know of the risks. Clearly this is not the case. Without disclosure of the risks involved in a job, the employee is not even in a situation to properly assess whether the pay received for task is sufficient to incur the risks inherent in the task. None of the completely absolves the employee of asking the obvious questions when they are in close contact with chemicals but surely this would reduce the company's liability rather than remove it entirely. Any lawyers out there able to give an informed view on this?

What are acceptable levels? (5, Insightful)

KingOfBLASH (620432) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408128)

I was listening to a radio piece on NPR about this yesterday. Apparently one of IBMs' arguments was that they adhered to OSHA guidelines -- none of the compounds workers were exposed to were thought to be as toxic as they were, so the acceptable levels of exposure are really much lower then what was thought at the time.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (3, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408183)

This is exactly why government-enforced agencies such as OSHA should be abhorred by employees!

When an independent organization such as the UL tells someone that a product is bad, the free market is allowed to decide if they want to base their purchasing judgement on truly independent agencies.

When government enforces rules through coercion, companies can use the famous line "We followed the government's rules" and pass the buck.

In these situations, it is much more acceptable to pass the buck and just blame the rules rather than allow the free market to create independent agencies that can set various warnings for both employees and employers alike.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (1)

MadBiologist (657155) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408263)

What is the incentive for the free market to test the things that OSHA tests? Who would pay for that service? The employees? Yeah, right... Their needs to be a third party that is disinterested in the proceedings of the company.

A blatent payoff to another corperation is much less of a problem that a payoff to a government agency that has as it's mandate, the protection of the taxpaying public.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (3, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408436)

Who pays the Underwriter's Laboratory? The consumers of goods. If a lamp is to be sold by Target or Walmart, they want to reduce their risk in selling the product and REQUIRE the manufacturer of the product to get a UL stamp. The manufacturer of the lamp pay part of their R&D costs in getting that approval. The cost of the lamp goes up, and Target passes this cost onto the consumer.

You, as the consumer, may want to save money, so you go to some grey market import store and buy a non-UL certified lamp for 1/2 price. You take a risk that it could catch fire. Maybe your insurance company requires you buy only UL approved lamps. Your risk, your reward.

Let's move this thought to the free market of job offerings and acquisitions.

A company offers a job in building widgets. They know this job requires certain skills. They offer this job at a certain rate.

Employees seeking this job have these skills. Without OSHA, the possible Employees may have 2 or 3 or 300 or 1000 different companies seeking them. The Employees know how much they want to make. Some smart Employees will also want safe jobs, so they will seek Employees who are certified by trusted testing companies. Other Employees might want to take a risk (more dangerous job) in order to get a higher reward (more pay). They may decide to work at a non-certified company.

If you can make $50,000 with your skills from a "UL"-certified safe company, or $75,000 at an uncertified company, you can equate this with buying a $10 certified bulb, or a $2 uncertified bulb.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (4, Insightful)

KingOfBLASH (620432) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408319)

You know if you read OSHA guidelines they're pretty stringent. Many, many, many of the "classic" experiments in chemistry can't be repeated these days because of a slight toxicity in the chemicals involved. The question becomes, how do you tell if something is bad for you? Answer, see who dies. If the exposure guidelines still result in cancer / death over a long period, lower the exposures. It's kind of sad actually, in that field all the rules are written in blood.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408409)

Mod parent up: very insightful.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (1)

Derek Pomery (2028) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408458)

Fortunately, we libertarians for the most part also believe in a court system to allow people protection and compensation from harm.
But you're right. OSHA and EPA both offer corporations protection so long as they follow the rules.

Eliminating these agencies would allow people to sue for damages in a court of law.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (2, Insightful)

2MuchC0ffeeMan (201987) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408184)

as far as i know, there are really no 'acceptable' levels, except with radioactive materials. Everything causes cancer, just depends on how much.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (2, Interesting)

Genjurosan (601032) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408226)

I remember other 'approved' drugs that caused severe birth defects. I even had a friend that received a large settlement check because of one of this 'approved' drugs that caused him to have all sorts of hearing and vision problems.

Perhaps someone can help me, as I don't remember one of the worst drugs from the 70s that was later determined to cause all sorts of problems.

In this case I don't find it very uplifting that a company can use the 'documented acceptable levels' argument to get out of their responsibility to those that work for them.

=(

Re:What are acceptable levels? (1)

BoomerSooner (308737) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408278)

Tobacco is the worst, it is the most frequently abused, etc.

I bet LSD caused some problems. No legal drugs (prescriptions), who knows?

Re:What are acceptable levels? (1)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408696)

Tobacco is the worst, it is the most frequently abused, etc.

Tobacco isn't the worst. It hardly even rates, compared to alcohol. Alcohol is much worse.

I bet LSD caused some problems.

You'd lose that bet. I suspect you're referring to the "LSD causes chromosome damage" myth. It doesn't.

No legal drugs (prescriptions), who knows?

Numerous prescription drugs can cause birth defects-- propecia, accutane, ambien, to name a few-- and it's well known.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (4, Informative)

B'Trey (111263) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408357)

I assume that you're talking about thalidomide, which was a safe, effective drug for everyone except pregnant women. The irony is that it was frequently prescribed to combat nasuea and insomnia caused by pregnancy. It's now approved in the US (it was never approved here in the 50s, when all the problems occurred in Europe), and is being used effectively for treatment of certain effects of leprosy, with a number of other potential uses being researched.

Re:What are acceptable levels? (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408679)

I find it appalling that the industry can refuse to participate in a state-funded study on the effects of the chemicals on the workers, and then claim that there is not enough medical evidence connecting their dying workers to the work conditions. Can't the state force compliance? (I know, I know. Big government is bad, etc.)

Good Ole' OSHA (2, Interesting)

Darth23 (720385) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408388)

Protecting the Scum of the Universe from Liability Suits.

OSHA hasn't been a properly functioning governmental organization for YEARS, if not decades.

Everyone should be aware that we take more than a paycheck [sweethoney.com] [lyrics] home from work.

Convincing vs suggestive evidence (5, Interesting)

JimJinkins (144263) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408134)

"but evidence in the lawsuit has suggested that employees were heavily exposed to chemicals and that IBM was aware that their employees got cancer at higher rates than the general population."

The plaintiff's evidence was suggestive. The defendent's (IBM's) evidence was convincing.

Perhaps Slashdot was right to not cover this case very well.

Just listen to NPR. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408138)

You'll get news like this way before Slashdot "reports" on it.

Seriously, reading Slashdot is like listening to NPR yesterday sometimes.

Re:Just listen to NPR. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408180)

Yeah, and listening to NPR is like having your skull opened with a hole saw.

Re:Just listen to NPR. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408284)

Hey, I LIKE my skull being opened with a hole saw... you insensitive clod.

Re:Just listen to NPR. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408182)

Seriously, reading Slashdot is like listening to NPR yesterday sometimes.

Complete with liberal bias?

Re:Just listen to NPR. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408249)

NPR's liberal "bias" still spits out more facts than, say, the "centrist" (hahahahaha!) Fox News. Show me a conservative-biased news source that still manages to report facts over rhetoric.

Re:Just listen to NPR. (-1, Troll)

RecipeTroll (572375) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408377)

hey,

fuck you and fuck that furry gaylord Garison Keeler as well!

I'm turning Democratic (4, Insightful)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408139)

I used to be a diehard Republican with pro-business ideas, but when decisions like this are handed down, I have to question whether a laissez faire policy is really the best thing for companies as well as employees.

It seems obvious that if IBM knew that these chemicals were causing higher cancer rates among its employees that it ought to be found complicit in their illnesses and be required to pay for their treatment and rehabilitation as well as compensatory damages. Unfortunately, the prosecution was not able to prove to the jury that this was the case.

However, in such a case the victims are simply out of luck. Should they, through no fault of their own be destined to spend many thousands of their own dollars for cancer treatment when they are in the least capable position of paying of any of the parties involved? IBM failed to provide, through simple negligence, a safe working environment and now people are suffering as a result.

I don't think that ignorance of the problem can be a usable excuse in cases such as this. It is IBM who through their ignorance caused this damage. I feel that it is their responsibility to pay.

With apologies to the Vapors, I think I'm turning Democratic.

Re:I'm turning Democratic (4, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408240)

It is not the employer's responsibility in a free market to provide a "safe working environment." It is the employer's responsibility to offer an environment, a job, and a pay that an employee is willing tow work in, perform, and decide is a decent rate to accept.

In a free market, no one forces anyone to work any job in any environment against their will. If you feel the job is unsafe, don't work at that rate in that environment. If you are unsure of the chemicals you have in your environment, consult independent authorities on the subject and see if there are health risks.

Employees profit from accepting a certain job in a certain environment at a certain pay scale. They make the call. If no one wanted to do said job in said facility at said rate, then the employer would follow supply and demand rules in employment and either make the pay more, the environment safer, or a combination of the two.

Re:I'm turning Democratic (3, Insightful)

Hiro Antagonist (310179) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408463)

In a free market, no one forces anyone to work any job in any environment against their will. If you feel the job is unsafe, don't work at that rate in that environment. If you are unsure of the chemicals you have in your environment, consult independent authorities on the subject and see if there are health risks.

Problem is, you don't work, you don't eat. You don't eat, you starve, and almost every job you can take (outside of high-level management) comes with a boatload of problems. Office workers tend to be overstressed and obese[1]; factory and fast-food workers are exposed to hazardous environments and toxic chemicals. The sad thing is that both environments could be made drastically better, but it would nominally suck a few pennies off the stock price, and this is unacceptable to investors and boardmembers alike.

[1] Many American offices unoffically require sixty-hour workweeks among their office workers; after working a twelve hour day with no exercise and/or real 'rest' breaks, going out to the gym is not a fun prospect.

Re:I'm turning Democratic (1)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408494)

You don't work, you don't eat? So work.

Office workers who are overstressed should not work those jobs. If they are obese, they should not eat the foods they are eating, or exercise more.

It is not the investors, the boardmembers, or the employers' responsibilities to make sure their employees are happy or stress free or skinny. It is the investors job to keep the business running.

If employees are unhappy, there are literally millions of positions open at other companies. Stop accepting risky jobs, the free market honestly offers you better positions, albeit maybe for less money.

Re:I'm turning Democratic (3, Insightful)

tootlemonde (579170) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408561)

It is not the employer's responsibility in a free market to provide a "safe working environment."

I don't know about "a free market" but it is the employer's responsibility in the United States, which is where IBM was conducting business. In that country, an employer's responsibility is determined by democratically elected representatives, not the market or the employer's own notion of his responsibility.

The responsibility of the employer to provide a safe working environment is a relatively recent innovation in capitalism. The earliest industrialists provided horrendous [pipex.com] working conditions for both adults and children as long as they could get away with it.

Fortunately for employees, a free society trumps the free market.

Re:I'm turning Democratic (2, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408648)

Wow. You beat me there.

Err, wait, no you didn't. I just searched through the Constitution, and nowhere can I find a single clause that gives the majority (via "democratically elected representatives") the power to mandate employers to do ANYTHING.

Ergo, OSHA is unconstitutional. Therefore, your argument falls apart.

We may be a union of sovereign States that offer laws enticed by the whims of the majority, but in reality, the majority should be restrained by the limitations of the Constitution. No one should be told how to treat others based on federal government's coercive desires.

Unfortunately for employees, free society creates madmen who defraud employees into believing they have rights that they shouldn't have. When the free market had the freedoms it needed, everyone had better treatment. Once government involved itself in the relationship of Employers and Employees, everyone in the long run was harmed by increased prices, decreased availability of products, and horrendous taxation schemes that help only the few who happen to be friends of the elected.

Nice try.

libertarian Republicans will be the death of us al (2, Insightful)

FreeUser (11483) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408701)

In a free market, no one forces anyone to work any job in any environment against their will. If you feel the job is unsafe, don't work at that rate in that environment.

Starvation or exposure to the elements (homelessness) is generally a much more immediate and convincing threat than medical issues five or ten years hence. When it comes to employer/employee relations of this nature, there is no true free market, as the employee must work to sustain their life (buy food, keep a roof over their head, etc.), giving a potential employer inordinate power to impose less than ideal, or (as we have seen) less than acceptable conditions that an employee, desperate to make a living, will be compelled to accept in order to eat today.

This fallacy that the free market will somehow lead to an acceptable, much less equitable, balance is debunked by centuries of abuse and misuse of power by business interests. Abuses sufficient to turn half the planet at one time toward communism (which turned out not to be a solution, but was certainly a strong indicator of the problem), to lead to US paramilitary suppression of workers and union movements in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and to which current administration policies, and attitudes such as expressed by you, seem to be returning us today.

If you are unsure of the chemicals you have in your environment, consult independent authorities on the subject and see if there are health risks.

And if you have no idea, because your employer is keeping the deadliness of the toxins you are being exposed to secret (or even the fact that you're being exposed to anything secret)? Or your wages are such that you cannot afford consulting costs? Or the independent authorities (e.g. the Bush administration's EPA) aren't so independent after all, and give you bad data? Etc. etc. ad nauseum.

Blaming the victim "because s/he should have know better" has apparently become a typical Republican response to these issues, and is as inappropraite now as it has always been. Next we'll see them coaching for Colorado.

Your reasoning is really bad (4, Interesting)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408310)

If I, as a company, in good faith comply with all known legal requirements, and take as many steps as possible for worker safety, should I be held liable years later when something turns out to have been bad for my workers?

Take micro waves. They weren't known to cause problems, and initially micro wave ovens showed up everywhere in convenience stores. Then, low and behold, pace makers were found to be affected. Now, before that finding, should anyone injured by this mechanism be able to sue and hold liable whomever was involved, no matter how tenuously, for an unknown side-effect? I say no. This case's verdict confirms this concept, and to me is a just verdict.

A counter example is the tabacco industry, which withheld information on the extent of the damaging properties of its products from the general populace while continuing to strongly market its products. This is malicious negligence (IANAL FYI) and to my sense of justice should carry a penalty. And look, they were penalized, and this is another example of justice being served.

Lastly, I don't think these verdicts are necessarily pro-business, or anti-business, but merely necessary verdicts to enable people and companies to do business in this country. If every injured party was able to reap big verdicts over every little "injustice" or injury, then our business climate would be so terrible that no company would stay in the US for fear of being sued out of existance for something they could not have foreseen.

Take asbestos for instance, there was a product that no one knew would cause the problems it did later. In my opinion, I think the verdicts have been too far reaching, even hitting companies that bought bankrupt companies for their equipment (wish I still had a link to that story, was on cnn about 4 or 5 months ago). That's too far imo.

Re:I'm turning Democratic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408384)

Hey, even trolls are making political endorsements these days!

Re:I'm turning Democratic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408478)

>i>It seems obvious that if IBM knew that these chemicals were causing higher cancer rates among its employees that it ought to be found complicit in their illnesses and be required to pay for their treatment and rehabilitation as well as compensatory damages.

Yeah, that's the point. The Plainitffs didn't prove IBM knew the chemicals were dangeous. Actual or constructive notice is essential to a negligence claim.

Unfortunately, the prosecution ...

Not to nitpick, but it's the plaintiffs who didn't prove. There is no prosecutor in a civil trial.

However, in such a case the victims are simply out of luck. Should they, through no fault of their own be destined to spend many thousands of their own dollars for cancer treatment when they are in the least capable position of paying of any of the parties involved? IBM failed to provide, through simple negligence, a safe working environment and now people are suffering as a result.

Should IBM, through no fault of its own, have to pay for every sick worker. Sure, it is sad that these people have cancer. But if you can't prove that IBM is at fault for the cancer, then it is not fair to make IBM pay. These two plaintiffs were both smokers. One was diabetic and obese. There are plenty of other potential causes of cancer. As for the "employee mortality" file, I would have to know a lot more about that and any studies that show any higher chance of getting cancer as an IBM employee. Numbers are like hookers; once you get them on the sheets, you can make them say and do anything you want.

The jury sided with IBM (2)

Kohath (38547) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408526)

This decision wasn't "handed down". The jury heard the case. They found that IBM didn't do anything wrong.

Specifically, what do you have against the jury that you'd assume they made the wrong decision?

Messed Up (3, Informative)

telstar (236404) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408150)

I saw a story about this on 60 minutes. Among other things, they talked about how dangerous chemicals, that had been purchased in massive barrels with big warning signs on them were distributed to workers in smaller usable containers with the warning signs removed. How workers used to be exposed to chemicals with their bare hands, and they'd work without their gloves on because the chemicals would eat right through their gloves if they left them on. Interesting episode ... After seeing that, this verdict is somewhat of a surprise.

Re:Messed Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408286)

"they'd work without their gloves on because the chemicals would eat right through their gloves if they left them on."

*pauses*


Who would? What?


*pauses*


Maybe my survival instincts aren't the best, but if a material eats through the protective gloves I'm wearing, there's no way on Earth, Mars, Venus, or your choice of any 6 other planets that I'm going to touch it with my bare hands!

Re:Messed Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408292)

If you actually saw the piece on 60 minutes, and weren't appalled at the one sided nature of the article. I knew people would be pissed at IBM due to the piece, but honestly, that's what 60 minutes was shooting for. All Pathos, no Logos, no Ethos.

Re:Messed Up (5, Insightful)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408329)

I don't mean to be hard-hearted here but if I was working with chemicals that ate through my gloves I would:

A) Demand to know what chemicals they are.
B) Demand to know their possible effects on my health.
C) Demand a better quality hazardous enviroment equipment (Including ventilated headgear) that is proof against the stuff.
D) Report the company or even quit if all of the above was not fulfilled.

It is easy to talk about people not wanting to lose their jobs but surely keeping their health must be preferable to any period of unemployment, drop in pay or whatever else caused them not to complain.

Re:Messed Up (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408397)

60 Minutes isn't exactly a paragon of fair journalistic practices. Remember the Audi "Unintended accelleration" fiasco?

Re:Messed Up (4, Insightful)

Rick.C (626083) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408501)

When my son was in high school he got a job at a local windows company (no, the other kind - with glass). After the glazing had been applied, his job was to clean them up with a solvent and make them pretty for shipping. The company issued rubber gloves, but as with IBM, the solvent went right through the gloves.

At quitting time the first day, he told them he was quitting and wouldn't be back. They were surprized - that he had lasted the whole day. Most of the ten new recruits had quit at lunchtime.

He had blisters on his fingers for a week.

No worry for the company though - they had a new batch of recruits signed up to start the next day.

Fortunately my son was in a position where he didn't need the job. Other workers with families to feed can't just walk away.

Yipee... (2, Funny)

MadBiologist (657155) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408153)

Goody... now their lawyers can really concentrate on that peskey SCO thing...

(yes, I realize that IBM has a bout a gazillion lawyers, and that the ones involved in a cancer lawsuit are not the ones who'd best handle an ip lawsuit... but still....)

I wonder... (5, Insightful)

physicsboy500 (645835) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408154)

If this is a biased article... It seems that they do a wonderful job at telling one side of the story yet there must have been evidence clearing IBM of responsibility for the matter.

Those workers were under incredibly harsh conditions, but they never seemed to prove that IBM's chemicals actually did cause the diseases... Just a thought

Re:I wonder... (2, Interesting)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408387)

Personally, while the story concentrated on the victims, it had the opposite effect on me. I sided with IBM even while reading this story, despite the 1 or 2 lightly vieled attempts to paint IBM guilty by blatant assertions. (namely, IBM knew their workers had higher rates of cancer and other diseases). Just when, exactly, was IBM aware of this? It couldn't have been during the time in question, because they were just exposing their workers to these chemicals, so there was no history to make judgements by regarding safety.

Basically, this is just bad luck for the employees. If they'd won, you'd next be hearing about dead bungee jumpers' families suing bungee cord makers, because the victim misjudged the height vs length of the cord. (I'm sure this has already been attempted in our litiguous society that wants to blame anyone with deep pockets for their own stupidity)

Is IBM now spearheading a... (4, Funny)

GeneralEmergency (240687) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408162)


...new Open Sores Initiative?

Sorry, couldn't restrain myself.

THEY DESERVED IT! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408177)

It sounds like the employees were lazy and taking advantage the company and so they deserved cancer!

Am I off-base here?

Let's see (5, Insightful)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408178)

The main folks in the suit are 60+ years old....

They claim they "frequently had hard drive coating chemicals soak through her bunny suit and stain her skin and was forced to hold her breath to avoid inhaling strong odors emitted by chemicals she used daily"

Umm, I don't know about you, but if I was effectively swimming in chemicals, I do believe I might have a few stronger words to my company than "oh, I'm ok, let's go back to swimming in chemicals". Especially considering all the news 30+ years ago about the effects of chemicals on people and the environment in general (DDT, Agent Orange, that morning sickness drug thiamolide(sp?)).

That's sort of like oil field workers or railroad workers suing because they lost a finger, hand, or limb because the company "didn't tell them" that the work was dangerous.

Evidently the could not prove the company was malicious in its actions towards them, which to me is the only criteria in this case that could have convinced me that IBM should have lost. Let's hear it for a just verdict, for once, even if it seems the "little folks" got the short end of the stick (they didn't, they just didn't get to soak the company imho).

IBM Employees Infected W/ Cancer - Not IBM's Fault (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408189)

This probably comes from using Microsoft Software on their home desktops.

Outsource this... (-1, Troll)

cflorio (604840) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408233)

This is the kind of work they could move overseas... let them get the cancer.

Re:Outsource this... (0, Troll)

bad enema (745446) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408307)

Despite sounding like an asshole, parent poster is right. Why should IBM outsource quality IT jobs while local workers get the cancer?

It's all bullshit to me.

Re:Outsource this... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408378)

sarcasm>Why not? after all, you are better then they are as human beings, they surely deserve to get cancer or any other life threatening disease. Anyway, they are condemned to a lower standard of living then you, might as well end their suffering./sarcasm

You should have the common sens not to make any such comments.

Don't be retarded. (3, Insightful)

Ayanami Rei (621112) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408577)

Where do you think the highly toxic capacitors in your electronics are fabricated? China.
Where do you think the steel and aluminum are smelted, rolled, and processed? India.
Where does the motherboard come from? Taiwan.

They already do that. Apparently this type of manufacturing can't be exported because they don't have skilled enough workers there or something (or the plant was already here... not cost effective)

I was under the impression (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408237)

that Medicine Man had already found the cure for cancer.

Cancer, yay! (5, Funny)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408270)

Re:Cancer, yay! (1)

gdr (107158) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408678)

I initially read this as "Everything [everything2.com] causes cancer", you had me worried for a minute.

60 minutes II story (3, Informative)

scumbucket (680352) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408293)

60 Minutes II did an informative story on this a couple of months ago: Did IBM Know Of A Cancer Link? [cbsnews.com]

The US (5, Insightful)

ekephart (256467) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408352)

needs a 'loser pays' system - at least so some proportion. Society has become so litigious that if IBM had lost here, everyone and their mother whom had ever worked in semiconductors would sue IBM, Intel, AMD, VIA, etc. I hate to think that this prospect was a factor in the decision, or in any case of its kind. Sadly, firms will often settle rather than take even a very small risk at trial for fear that a loss would prompt a flood of very expensive suits.

Re:The US (2, Interesting)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408422)

While I agree, I think it would be better if judges (or special panels of judges or a system like a grand jury) were allowed to summarily dismiss a case with prejudice if the initial paperwork was seriously hokey or the suit was just plain against common sense. With such a system, you could still file your suit, but then it would be under loser pays, as the plaintiff already has strike one against him. This would discourage bad or hokey suits, and wouldn't cost the defendents near as much.

Re:The US (1)

stevesliva (648202) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408469)

Loser pays. Hmm. This would make me feel better about ambulance chasers after a car accident, but would it really protect my interests as a plantiff? Wouldn't you be so afraid of investing in pursuing a valid lawsuit that you'd almost never sue anyone with deep pockets? You'd have to sell class-action lawsuit shares to defer potential costs. I'm sorry, you can only join this class action lawsuit if you're weathly and able to help us pay if we lose.

Re:The US (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408583)

Britain has a loser-pays system. I don't know if it works; but they do.

Age of defendents a factor? (5, Interesting)

xanthines-R-yummy (635710) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408367)

I don't know the details of all 200 lawsuits but the ones mentioned in the SFgate site says the 2 guys are 60 and 70 something. That's a very susceptible age to have cancer in general, I believe. If anything, they are pretty close to the average lifespan in the US anyway for men. However, I think that IBM should offer some sort of compensation as responsible corporation if not for the very minimal effect of avoiding a publicized lawsuit (condidtions of most settlements seem to be sealed.)

Now if there are a bunch of 20-30 year-old workers coming down with cancer, that might be pretty fishy.

These cases may be harder to try in the future (3, Insightful)

spidergoat2 (715962) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408370)

The problem these days seems to be a toxic overload of carcinogens in our environment. There are so many carcinogens, pollutants, and plain toxic material in our air, food and water, it's going to be increasingly difficult to prove the source of cancer in anyone......Even a dog knows not to piss in it's bed.

Here's a whole village screwed by IBM chemicals (3, Informative)

ccwaterz (535536) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408406)

http://www.pressconnects.com/special/endicottspill /

Why were the records kept ot of the trial? (4, Informative)

penultimatepost (597514) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408426)

He said he was disappointed with the judge's refusal to let him present some evidence, including a "corporate mortality file" that IBM maintained on its workers and a study showing that IBM workers had higher rates of cancer than the population at large.

Does anyone know why these record were kept out of the proceedings?

Re:Why were the records kept ot of the trial? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408617)

Does anyone know why these record were kept out of the proceedings?

Relevance? Prejudicial? Hearsay? I don't know for sure, but I would bet it was because the study focused on all IBM employees and not specifically the ones at the plant in question. That would make it not relevant. (Relevance in the rules of evidence is something entirely different then what you probably think it is.)

And a jury found them not liable... (5, Insightful)

jordandeamattson (261036) | more than 10 years ago | (#8408490)

Love the editorial in the lead to this discussion.

Let's be clear: evidence was presented by both sides, and a jury of peers from Silicon Valley, found that IBM was not liable.

As someone who has followed this case closely, I have to agree with the decision rendered by the jury.

Of course, if you want to put on your tin-foil hat, you will find all kinds of conspiracies in this baby.

Let's all sing along (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8408665)

Go, boys, go
They'll time your every breath.
And every day you're in this place,
You're two days nearer death.
But you go.

Well a process man am I and I'm telling you no lies.
I work and breath among the fumes that tread across the sky.
There's thunder all around me and there's poison in the air.
There's a lousy smell that smacks of hell and dust all in me hair.

And it's go boys go.
They'll time your every breath.
And every day you're in this place,
you're two days nearer death.
But you go.

Well I've worked among the spinners and I breathed the oily smoke.
I shoveled up the gypsum and that nyon makes you choke.
I've knee deep in cyanide got sick with a caustic burn.
Been working rough I've seen enough to make your stomach turn.

And it's go boys go.
They'll time your every breath.
And every day you're in this place,
you're two days nearer death.
But you go.

There's overtime and bonus opportunity galore.
The young men like their money and they all come back for more.
But soon you're knock'n on and you look older than you should.
For every bob made on the job is paid with flesh and blood.

And it's go boys go.
They'll time your every breath.
And every day you're in this place,
you're two days nearer death.
But you go.

Well a process man am I and I'm telling you no lies.
I work and breath among the fumes that tread across the sky.
There's thunder all around me and there's poison in the air.
There's a lousy smell that smacks of hell and dust all in me hair.

And it's go boys go.
They'll time your every breath.
And every day you're in this place,
you're two days nearer death.
But you go.

And it's go boys go.
They'll time your every breath.
And every day you're in this place,
you're two days nearer death.
But you go.

-- Great Big Sea
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