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IBM Cleared in San Jose Cancer Liability Suit

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  • It seems harsh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Space cowboy (13680) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:27AM (#8408097) Journal
    ... 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.

    • Re:It seems harsh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wol (10606) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:37AM (#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 (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:51AM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

        by stoolpigeon (454276) <bittercode@gmail> on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:19AM (#8408637) Homepage Journal
        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:My IBM experience (Score:4, Informative)

        by Quimo (72752) on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:46AM (#8408921)
        Isn't is part of the Employers Duties to make sure that you Have, Know how to properly use and actually make use of the proper safety equipment at all times.

        I seem to remember cases being dealt with where the employer was found to not have rigorusly enforced the safety policy and requirements. An employee got hurt while not wearing his safety equipment (eye protection I think it was.) The employee had been through the you must wear your safety equipment speech with managment many times (they had it on record.) However as the policy was that any employee caught not wearing there safety equipment 3 times within a year would be immediatly dismissed. (Union or no this was within there rights.) As he was not dismissed they where found at fault.

        By my take on that if IBM does not enforce the safety requirements they are at fault for any injuries within the workplace.
      • by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:11PM (#8410496) Homepage Journal
        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)

        So you're saying IBM refuses to let you comply with safety procedures (because if you do, you'll be fired). That's a perfectly reason to sue IBM. Claiming that you refused to follow procedures is silly. Next we'll be hearing arguments that we can't prosecute mobsters because I chose to give them my money. If you'll lose your job if you don't do certain things than the company is responsible for those actions.

    • Worker's Comp (Score:5, Insightful)

      by darkmeridian (119044) <> on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:07AM (#8408497) Homepage
      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 (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:11AM (#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.
  • by enrico_suave (179651) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:28AM (#8408110) Homepage
    Willy wonka cleared of liability/wrong doing in the Gloop, Beauregarde, and Teevee vs IBM suit.

  • Conundrum (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dada21 (163177) <> on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:28AM (#8408118) Homepage Journal
    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 (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pvt_medic (715692)
      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
    • Re:Conundrum (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pacsman (629749)
      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 coff
      • Re:Conundrum (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Dr. Evil (3501) on Friday February 27, 2004 @12:02PM (#8409108)

        Please stop about the McDonald's coffee lady. []

      • Re:Conundrum (Score:3, Interesting)

        by minion (162631)
        This kind of reminds me about the Radium Dial Co.

        I'm not saying that IBM is guilty (and I hope they're not - they are on on side after all (linux)).

        But, the Radium Dial Co. delibertly told their workers that the "paint" they were using for the instrument dials was completely harmless, regardless of its constant glow. These people used to put it in their mouths, on their face, etc. and then turn out the lights and have fun after hours with it.

        Radium Dial Co. changed their name and moved when too many w
    • by Anonymous Coward

      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 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dada21 (163177) <> on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:49AM (#8408335) Homepage Journal
        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.
        • 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
          • You have a great point, but the free market still dictates rules to cover your situation as well.

            If you came to me with a great business idea, and desired $5000 of my money to invest in it, you'd have a better chance of getting it if you disclosed all portions of that idea. You might offer me a small return on my money.

            On the other hand, if you had a secret idea and wanted me to risk my investment, you'd better guarantee me a huge return.

            The same is true in the job market!

            First, if I offered you a jo
        • Re:Conundrum (Score:3, Insightful)

          by paranoic (126081)
          You're assuming that Joe & Mike are able to intelligently evaluate the risks. Do you really work in a place where the company tells you everything?
    • Re:Conundrum (Score:2, Insightful)

      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 (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dada21 (163177)
        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.
        • and both get an equal share of the profits?

          • Re:Conundrum (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dada21 (163177)
            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
            • Re:Conundrum (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Clemence (16887)
              "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. "

              I haven't read the case very closely, but it hardly seems to me that IBM was the only party taking the risks in this case.

              It seems the verdict turned on the workers' failure to prove (1) the chemicals caused their cancers; and (2) IBM knew of the cause and effect and kept it a secret from its employees.

              If the plai
        • Re:Conundrum (Score:5, Informative)

          by DavidBrown (177261) on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:17AM (#8408614) Journal
          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.

          • If IBM actually (theoretically) cared about their workers, they might want to track the incidences of diseases, particularly cancer or unusual ailments, to see if their workers had any problems in greater proportion to the general population or other similar populations. If IBM saw an increase, they would know that something was wrong but not necessarily the cause; epidemiological data implicating a primary cause would be nontrivial (or impossible) to get - while they would know of increased risks, they wou
    • Re:Conundrum (Score:5, Insightful)

      by B'Trey (111263) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:43AM (#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.
      • There are plenty of jobs where you have dangerous work. However the employer isn't always liable if you get hurt/killed for anything more than workmans comp.

        One situation, which I suspect is what happened here from what I've read, is if they provide the necessary saftey gear and procedures and you ignore them. This sort of thing happens all the time. Donning safety gear is a pain and time consuming, as is getting necessary equipment. So you ignore it.

        Like at my last job, we needed to move some Cisco 7513
    • Re:Conundrum (Score:3, Interesting)

      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 (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dada21 (163177)
        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
        • 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 (Score:3, Interesting)

            by dada21 (163177)
            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 pro
      • Re:Conundrum (Score:3, Interesting)

        by johnnyb (4816)
        "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
    • Re:Conundrum (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rm007 (616365) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:55AM (#8408400) Journal
      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?
  • by KingOfBLASH (620432) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:29AM (#8408128) Journal
    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.
    • 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 bla
      • by KingOfBLASH (620432) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:48AM (#8408319) Journal
        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.
    • as far as i know, there are really no 'acceptable' levels, except with radioactive materials. Everything causes cancer, just depends on how much.
    • 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 resp
      • Tobacco is the worst, it is the most frequently abused, etc.

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

      • by B'Trey (111263) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:51AM (#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.

    • Good Ole' OSHA (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Darth23 (720385)
      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 [] [lyrics] home from work.

  • by JimJinkins (144263) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:30AM (#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.
  • by ObviousGuy (578567) <> on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:30AM (#8408139) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by dada21 (163177) <> on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:40AM (#8408240) Homepage Journal
      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.
      • by Hiro Antagonist (310179) on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:02AM (#8408463) Journal
        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.
        • 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
          • You don't work, you don't eat? So work.

            But your first post said they had a choice; that no-one was forced to work in any environment against their will. But now you say they don't have a choice; at least, 'to eat or not to eat' doesn't sound like one. Make up your mind.

            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.

            Wow, and where do these guys find the time? I mean, I work one of those office jobs,
          • Well the whole excuse for having capitalism is based on our understanding of human nature. Our understanding of human nature in the last 200 years has improved considerably. They were attempting to show you the symptoms of placing human beings in these environments. Did you know your environment makes up about half of your personality?

            How can a person have the will power to take care of themselves when their environment destroys that part of their personality? How has the media system affected the aver
      • 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 innova

        • 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
          • Uh, OK, sure. I really can't say much about your constitutionality argument (hadn't tried to read it for that particular argument) but it is often in the eye of the beholder. Arguments on what is and isn't constitutional can easily get pretty contrived, stretching things to not mean that it meant, or to mean what it didn't.

            Frankly, I wouldn't want to live in a USA without OSHA. Yes, they are overzealous at times but when it comes to life and livelyhood, employers often don't give a shit on basic safety
          • OSHA falls under the "necessary and proper" clause. Argue all you want, complain about judicial activism, but it goes all the way back to McCullogh vs Maryland in 1819 and the Supreme Court has consistently held up that interpretation. If you want a government without implied powers, you'll have to roll your own.

          • by aeryn_sunn (243533) on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:12PM (#8410499)
            Uh, perhaps you overlooked the "Commerce Clause"?...and if I recall, your thinking that the federal government cannot regulate business, i.e. OHSA, has been soundly rejected..The Lochner era , Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, economic substantive due process under the guise of "freedom to contract" that was used to limit the government from regulating employers, has been thoroughly rejected.

            Therefore, your comment about the Constitution is completely incorrect...perhaps you might need to also see Marbury v. Madison to understand that it is up to the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution...

            Regardless, from your previous comments on some illusion that employers and employees have equal bargaining power is also way off you honestly think employers are going to spend any money that they are not forced to spend to make a workplace safe? to not pollute? to provide certain minimum benefits? Not when profits are at stake...history is littered with instances of employer malfeasance...ever read "The Jungle"? Ever read about the "Alton" documents where the Railroads knew asbestos was getting their employees sick in the earlier 1920s but still did not let the workers know this?

            I would go as far and say that the belief that employers and employees are equal is naive and not just you think if IBM told all prospective...or even would tell all prospective workers that if they worked in that plant, their risk of cancer doubles that IBM would be able to find any workers? Hell no...IBM just like all employers play down any risks and say "trust us" it is ok...

            Your "Let the market decide" mantra should not be the end all be all...there are limits...if there were not any limits, AT&T would be your only phone carrier, I would not be using a Mac but using windows and we would all be filling up our gas tanks at Standard Oil gas stations...
      • 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.)
        • When has the free market been a fallacy? In the situations you're describing, where employers abused employees, said abuses occurred only because government was involved! Business interests can only abuse when they have the power of coercion behind them.

          The only organization that can use coercive threats is government. That's mandated by the public will!

          Bush's EPA is enforced by the majority's will. The private free market UL is not coercive.

          If the toxins are secret, you still accepted the job. You
          • When has the free market been a fallacy? In the situations you're describing, where employers abused employees, said abuses occurred only because government was involved! Business interests can only abuse when they have the power of coercion behind them.

            That is flat out revisionist history, factually incorrect and disingenuous.

            The worst excesses of business may occur when business manages to coopt government, but many, many appalling excesses occur in the absence of government, or in lassaiz-faire situat
    • by Gr8Apes (679165) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:47AM (#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.

    • 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?
    • Boy, where to no particular order:

      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...

      Well, gee sure. Problem is that you assume: a) the chemicals were actually causing higher rates & b) IBM was away of the causality. Those are pretty big assumptions. I'd prefer to see something from the transcript supporting both of these assumptions before I hop onboard.

      It is IBM who through their ignora
  • Messed Up (Score:4, Informative)

    by telstar (236404) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:31AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:48AM (#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.
      • I agree.

        There are MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets), and the company MUST maintain an MSDS on every hazardous chemical they use, and provide access to them on all chemicals you will be exposed to. The company is not allowed to penalize you for demanding the MSDS. I think the company can't penalize you for following the safe procedures, but in practice I guess that's not enforced.
    • Re:Messed Up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rick.C (626083) on Friday February 27, 2004 @11:07AM (#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... (Score:2, Funny)

    by MadBiologist (657155)
    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... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by physicsboy500 (645835) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:32AM (#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... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Gr8Apes (679165)

      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 r

    • there's just no getting around it. Chemists' average lifespans are several years shorter than the average.
  • by GeneralEmergency (240687) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:33AM (#8408162) Journal Open Sores Initiative?

    Sorry, couldn't restrain myself.

  • Let's see (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gr8Apes (679165) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:34AM (#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).

  • by lukewarmfusion (726141) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:43AM (#8408270) Homepage Journal
  • 60 minutes II story (Score:3, Informative)

    by scumbucket (680352) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:45AM (#8408293)
    60 Minutes II did an informative story on this a couple of months ago: Did IBM Know Of A Cancer Link? []

  • The US (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ekephart (256467) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:50AM (#8408352) Homepage
    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 (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Gr8Apes (679165)
      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.
    • 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 (Score:3, Insightful)

      by johnnyb (4816)
      The problem with "loser pays" is that it prevents people without money from getting justice, because the risk is too high.

      What we really need are judges with the balls to throw more suits out of court and caps on punitive damages. Also, as a society, we need to understand, both socially and legally, that stuff just happens, and we need to get on in life.
  • by xanthines-R-yummy (635710) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:51AM (#8408367) Homepage Journal
    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.

  • by spidergoat2 (715962) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:52AM (#8408370) Journal
    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.
  • by ccwaterz (535536) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:56AM (#8408406) /
  • by penultimatepost (597514) on Friday February 27, 2004 @10:58AM (#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?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      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.)
  • 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.

  • those people that contracted brain cancer by working at one of IBMs plants. Not just any type of cancer, but a very rare form was found in at least 2 employees on one location. Something that is not statisticly possible unless the chemicals they worked with were the cause. But I didn't read the article.
  • Higher cancer rate? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) <> on Friday February 27, 2004 @02:39PM (#8410857)
    "Attorneys in a major Silicon Valley cancer cluster lawsuit against IBM have uncovered a ``corporate mortality file'' in which IBM tracked the deaths of more than 30,000 workers -- and the lawyers claim the company knew its electronics workers were dying of cancer more often than normal."

    One would have to compare the employeees with persons of a similar age and location. Significantly, the IBM plant is in an area where pesticide use was heavy (orchards in the area), and asbestos contaminates the air naturally. Looking at the first two plaintiffs, one had worked in the fruit processing industry for decades (can we say pesticides?), was obese (recently shown to be a significant factor in breast cancer development - and her suit was based on breast cancer. The other one was a heavy smoker. Smoking has recently been shown to increase the risk of non-hodgkins lymphoma - exactly what the man has.

Make headway at work. Continue to let things deteriorate at home.