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Eternit

Shocking Reversal in Major Italian Asbestos Litigation Case

Asbestos Litigation Swiss Billionaire Escapes Responsibility For Now For Over 3,000 Deaths

In a shocking reversal for international asbestos litigation, Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny was absolved for now of 3,000 deaths of Italian workers exposed to asbestos in factories formerly part of his company, Eternit. Italy’s Supreme Court overturned a ruling which had sentenced the Swiss industrialist to 18 years in prison.

The Italian court ruled that the statute of limitations for asbestos litigation based on environmental contamination had expired in the case against Schmidheiny. A statute of limitations is a set period of time during which a lawsuit may be filed.

An appeals court in 2013 had upheld Schmidheiny’s conviction and increased to 18 years from 16 the prison term handed down by a lower court in 2012. We reported to you on the upheld conviction here in the Kazan Law blog at that time.

Italy’s premier Matteo Renzi reaction echoed the outrage across Italy on Thursday, according to the Associated Press (AP), after the asbestos litigation high court ruling.

Renzi is quoted by the Associated Press (AP) as saying that the case shows that Italy’s justice system needs to be reformed to speed up trials.

Eternit – Over a Hundred Years of Asbestos Contamination

Founded in 1903, Eternit produced asbestos-containing cement until 1997. Headed by the Schmidheiny family since 1933, Eternit also had factories in the Netherlands, France and Brazil as well as Italy. They also owned a distribution subsidiary in the U.S. that dissolved years ago. But they did not get away with murder here. In fact, Kazan Law won a verdict of $11, 500,000 in 2001 against Eternit right here in Alameda County for a construction project estimator and his wife.

Amid a growing scandal about asbestos, Eternit’s four Italian factories closed in 1986 and the company was sold to an Austrian bank in 2003.

In 2009, following five years of investigation, billionaire former CEO Stephan Schmidheiny and major shareholder Louis de Cartier Marchienne were accused of criminal neglect . Both men were found guilty in February 2013 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.  You can read about this important asbestos litigation in a free ebook  co-edited by my sister Laurie-Kazan Allen and her husband David Allen, who monitor asbestos developments in Europe.

Marchienne died at age 91 on May 21, 2013 during the appeal of his sentence. Charges against him were dropped in June. But Schmidheiny’s sentence was increased to 18 years. He then successfully appealed the case to Italy’s highest court.

Possibility of Future Asbestos Litigation For Eternit Case

According to a Swiss news media website, a Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung has blamed Italy’s federal prosecutor for its “strategy to deal with asbestos damages through criminal proceedings against individuals” – essentially by pinning all the blame on Schmidheiny.

The newspaper maintains that this may not be the end of the Eternit asbestos litigation, noting that “because the acquittal was mainly for formal reasons, it’s unclear whether … the whole palette of allegations is ‘settled’”.

“The Turin public prosecutor’s office is known to be conducting further criminal investigations,” noted the statement from Schmidheiny’s team. “The defense expects the Italian state to now protect [him] from further unjustified criminal proceedings and to cease all current proceedings.”

We can only hope that this expectation proves unwarranted, and that the Italian prosecutor will move ahead with a murder case, for which there is no statute of limitations.

Italian Asbestos Victims Ask Yale to Revoke Convicted Eternit CEO’s Honorary Degree

Casale MonferratoMention the Piedmont region of Italy and most people think of a glamorous vacation destination with picturesque villages and castles framed by the Alps.  But behind the tourist façade, it is an asbestos-infested valley of the shadow of death.

More than 2,000 people have died from mesothelioma just in Casale Monferrato, a town that has been around since the days of the ancient Roman Empire. By the dawn of the 20th century, it became known as a cement producing capital because of a factory built there in 1906 by Eternit, a company based in neighboring Switzerland.  Founded in 1903, Eternit produced asbestos-containing cement until 1997.

Headed by the Schmidheiny family since 1933, the company flourished during the post World War II rebuilding boom throughout Europe.  Besides Italy, Eternit also had factories in the Netherlands, France and Brazil. But amid a growing scandal about asbestos, Eternit’s four Italian factories closed in 1986 and the company was sold to an Austrian bank in 2003.

In 2009, following five years of investigation, billionaire former CEO Stephan Schmidheiny , 65, and major shareholder Louis de Cartier Marchienne were accused of criminal neglect . Both men were found guilty in February 2013 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.  You can learn more about this important asbestos trial in a free ebook  co-edited by my sister Laurie-Kazan Allen and her husband David Allen, asbestos victim advocates in their own right.

Marchienne died at age 91 on May 21, 2013 during the appeal of his sentence. Charges against him were dropped in June. But Schmidheiny’s sentence was increased to 18 years. He is appealing the case to Italy’s highest court.

Now, a group of mesothelioma sufferers and their families in Italy are seeking to have Yale University, an elite American college in New Haven, Connecticut, take back an honorary degree it presented to Schmidheiny in 1996.  A New Haven attorney representing the Italian group sent a petition to Yale officials this week.  Yale has never revoked an honorary degree and has expressed support for Schmidheiny .   Ironically, Schmidheiny’s Yale honors were conferred on him for his environmental activities, which cynically could be seen as an attempt to distance himself from the environmental and human disasters his company created.

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