Workers' cancer suit must be dismissed, says IBM

IBM has argued that a lawsuit alleging that it had overlooked higher-than-usual incidences of cancer among workers at its...

IBM has argued that a lawsuit alleging that it had overlooked higher-than-usual incidences of cancer among workers at its manufacturing facilities should be dismissed.

Four plaintiffs in the case charge that IBM concealed evidence of "systemic chemical poisoning" among workers at its former plant in San Jose, said Richard Alexander,  of Alexander, Hawes & Audet, the law firm representing the plaintiffs. IBM sold the plant to Hitachi last year as part of the sale of its hard-drive business.

If the motion to dismiss is not granted, jury selection for the trial is set to begin in October. Alexander expected the case to reach trial, he said in an interview following Friday morning's hearing. A ruling is expected next week.

More than 100 cases are pending against IBM and other chemical companies, claiming that chemicals and materials used in the manufacture of semiconductors, hard drives and circuit boards caused abnormal medical problems among IBM employees in New York, Vermont and Minnesota, according to IBM.

The plaintiffs claim that IBM was aware of health problems plaguing workers at the plant, and did nothing to limit workers' exposure to hazardous chemicals used in the manufacturing process that are said to have been responsible for those problems.

The four individuals in the San Jose case developed various forms of cancer after working at IBM, and other workers at IBM plants around the US are alleged to have endured unusual rates of cancer and birth defects.

One of the San Jose workers, Suzanne Rubio, died from breast cancer after working in an IBM clean room, Alexander said. Two other plaintiffs have developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and another woman underwent a mastectomy after contracting breast cancer, he claimed.

The employees affected worked with chemicals that have been identified as carcinogens, and although IBM was aware of the danger of those chemicals, it did nothing to limit employees' exposure to the chemicals even after some of them developed illnesses, he claimed.

IBM spokesman Bill O'Leary said the plaintiffs do not have enough medical or scientific evidence to prove their claims under California law, which requires employees to prove a number of charges before they can claim damages outside of worker's compensation benefits.

To sue their employers directly, the plaintiffs must prove that their employer knew of a condition that was making employees sick before the employees became aware, failed to tell the employee of that condition and knowingly sent workers back on the job under those conditions, O'Leary said.

IBM denied that it had information that its workers were made ill by chemicals used in the manufacturing process, and will contest the issue at trial.

The plaintiffs are seeking "fair and reasonable compensation" for Rubio's death and the illnesses of the other employees, Alexander said. They will also seek punitive damages against IBM.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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