Asbestos Deaths Net Prison Sentences for Employers
Asbestos deaths of a company’s employees resulted in prison sentences for their bosses last week. This is an amazing victory for justice. Sadly it is amazing because it is all too rare that the individuals responsible for causing asbestos deaths of workers are held accountable and punished. More typically if there is a ruling in civil court in favor of those whose lives were destroyed by asbestos exposure; it is a monetary award that will affect only the company’s shareholders. But this time things turned out differently.
Asbestos Deaths of Italian Tire Factory Workers Lead to Manslaughter Charges
The asbestos deaths this time were not just left to be sorted out by the guilty company’s accounting department. This time a court in Milan, Italy, decided that those who committed the crime should do the time, as the saying goes.
The Milan court convicted 11 former managers of the Pirelli tire company, including two former CEOs, on charges of manslaughter. They were all handed prison sentences for causing the deaths of 20 workers who became ill as a result of being exposed to asbestos at the Pirelli factory in Milan where the company has its headquarters.
The court issued sentences up to seven years and eight months against the defendants, who were Pirelli board members during the 1980s. Prosecuting attorneys successfully proved that the workers at the Milan tire factory were not adequately protected against asbestos. The workers’ asbestos deaths are believed to have been caused by asbestos exposure they suffered while working at the company’s factories during the 1970s and 80s.
The court also awarded more than 500,000 Euros ($550,000) in damages to one family and other injured parties. Many families had settled out of court, according to media reports. Families of the victims cheered when the conviction was announced in court. They held banners saying.”We showed that when you are united, you can win”.
Pirelli’s lawyers vowed that they would appeal the court’s decision.
Asbestos Death Conviction in Previous Case Was Overturned
The conviction and sentencing of the Pirelli executives reminds us of the outcry caused by a previous case in which a corporate executive was let off the hook for asbestos deaths. In that case a controversial decision was made by an Italian higher court last November to overturn the conviction and 18-year prison sentence of Stephan Schmidheiny for lack of safety provisions in asbestos cement plants run by Eternit, his family’s now defunct company, during the 1970s and 80s.
He was convicted for being responsible for nearly 3,000 asbestos deaths.
Italy’s top court ruled that Schmidheiny, the heir to a Swiss industrial dynasty, should not have been convicted of causing a health or environmental catastrophe because the verdict came more than 12 years after the crime and the statute of limitation had lapsed for the specific charges.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was quoted as saying that Italy’s “nightmare” criminal statute of limitation rules needed to be changed after Schmidheiny’s conviction was thrown out.
In the US, the statute of limitations is based not on the time of asbestos exposure but from the time of diagnosis or death from an asbestos-caused disease. An asbestos lawsuit can be filed decades after the exposure to asbestos occurred. Statute of limitation laws vary by state but generally, plaintiffs have three years to file a suit following an asbestos-related diagnosis or death.
Asbestos Deaths in Milan May Be Tip of Iceberg
Asbestos deaths at any workplace are inexcusable and horrific. The situation becomes even more horrifying when the offending company is a multinational corporation with many other factories where the same negligence may be occurring. Pirelli, the world’s fifth-largest tire manufacturer behind Bridgestone, Michelin, Continental and Goodyear, is present in over 160 countries, has 19 manufacturing sites around the world and a network of around 10,000 distributors and retailers. The 20 asbestos deaths in their home city of Milan may just be the tip of the iceberg. If Pirelli is this heartless about the lives of their fellow Milanese citizens, how can they be relied upon to be more careful with the lives of their workers in other countries?
Pirelli is a venerable company that has been sponsoring sport competitions since 1907and is currently the exclusive tire supplier for the Formula One Championship for 2011-2016 and for the FIM World Superbike Championship. It is reprehensible that a company with such a long history and proud pedigree would exhibit such a disregard for human life. We hope the Italian courts stick with the conviction they handed down this time.