Proceedings are Underway in an Italian Criminal Prosecution of Owners and Managers for Exposing Empl
A Swiss media article describes significant media and partisan attention focused on the first day of trial in an asbestos-related criminal prosecution of former owners and managers of Eternit businesses that for decades were global manufacturers of asbestos-cement board, among many asbestos products. Hundreds of people are said to have gathered for the first day of the prosecution that involves allegedly knowing or reckless industrial hygiene decisions said to have resulted in premature deaths and injuries to over 2,500 manufacturing plant employees and local residents. The alleged misdeeds of Eternit have been widely chronicled over the years while this prosecution effort was ongoing. Informative articles are available here and here , and an article I wrote back in 2004 provides some context for EU businesses facing asbestso litigation’s expansion into Europe.
Prosecutions of this sort raise a wide-range of issues. From the American perspective, perhaps the most striking aspect is that Italian law expressly allows trial that combine criminal and civil claims, thus giving the defendants significant risks that would not exist in a civil trial in the US. Italian law also allows the judge to reduce sentences to some degree if compensation is paid to victims. This trial will not end quickly – Italian criminal trials move slowly and include a variety of procedures not directly comparable to American criminal trials.
What’s the likley outcome? My assumption/prediction is that this trial ultimately will result in Eternit entities and the individual defendants offering to plead guilty subject to a proviso limiting their sentences in return for creation of a significant private fund/trust that will pay money to claimants and that will make some payments to Italian government agencies such as INAIL to offset payments that have paid medical expenses for victims. I strongly suspect the deal will not be as cushy for the defendants as was the tobacco deal cut in the United States.