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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Eternit Asbestos Defendants Set for Criminal Trial in Italy in December 2009

News articles here (best one), here and here are out with news from Italy that the criminal and civil trial for the Eternit asbestos defendants is to start December 10, 2009. The date was set after the trial court denied objections by the defendants, including objections to the location of the trial. The trial will not end quickly – Italian trials in some ways move slowly and include a variety of procedures not directly comparable to American trials.

The criminal and civil claims arise from something around 2,500 injuries and deaths alleged to arise from Italian manufacturing operations of the global Eternit businesses. For more background, a prior post here described the criminal and civil claims being pursued in Italy against former officers of Eternit, and includes links to background articles. There are myriad Eternit entities around the world, and they are not all part of one corporate family. However, most have some roots in manufacturing asbestos-cement products.

The claims and attendant publicity are noteworthy for a variety of reasons. One is that the US media now has company with other global media that devote articles, blogs and websites to “asbestos exposure” and “the dangers of asbestos. ” To test the point, try Google searches on “eternit,” “schmidheiny” (the last name of one of the defendants) or “amiante” (asbestos). Publicity and fear tend to lead to increased tort litigation.

Another point is that it is increasingly easy for claimant’s group to disseminate information that may damage corporate reputation in general and reduce the overall enterprise value. Consider, for example, this website that provides a basic account of the Eternit proceedings and seeks to heap shame on Eternit. Considered in the light of the events of the past year, and this type of an event, one can readily grasp why the SEC has made statements to the media and proposed new rules (go here) regarding public disclosure of the board’s role in risk management and the overall corporate risk management strategy.

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