Jurors Debate Whether IBM Lied About Cancer-Causing Chemicals - InformationWeek

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Jurors Debate Whether IBM Lied About Cancer-Causing Chemicals

Plaintiffs' lawyers say IBM exploited workers who suffer from cancer caused by chemicals used in disk-drive facilities; IBM says there's no proof that work conditions were responsible.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- In a trial that could have sweeping consequences for the semiconductor industry, lawyers have portrayed IBM Corp. as a deceitful exploiter of workers who now suffer the ravages of cancer-causing chemicals used in disk-drive factories.

But in closing arguments Tuesday, the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant reminded a state jury that it was a pioneer in employee health--and repeated its contention that there is no conclusive proof that work conditions were responsible for the plaintiffs' illness.

A verdict in the 6-year-old case, brought by two retirees diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s, could come as early as this week.

Jurors in Santa Clara County Superior Court must decide whether IBM engaged in "fraudulent concealment," then determine the amount of money, if any, the workers should receive.

The trial, which is the first of more than 200 similar lawsuits against IBM, has riveted the semiconductor industry, where hundreds of thousands of workers don "bunny suits" and use chemicals to protect microchips from airborne particles, fingerprints or other impurities in dust-free "clean rooms."

Retiree James Moore, 62, who began working for IBM in the San Jose disk-drive plant in the 1960s and suffers from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, is suing IBM for unspecified damages. His attorney is asking jurors to award him $11,000 per year for the rest of his life in lost wages, $26,000 in medical expenses, and possibly millions of dollars in pain and suffering.

Alida Hernandez, 73, a 14-year veteran of IBM's San Jose plant, said her employer intentionally hoodwinked workers about the foul-smelling chemical mixtures that soaked her chest and arms. Hernandez, who had liver damage and breast cancer that resulted in a mastectomy, is asking for at least $8 million in disfigurement, pain and suffering, and medical expenses.

"The evidence is overwhelming that Jim and Alida were injured, and IBM's doctors knew it and never said anything to them and sent them back to work," plaintiffs' attorney Richard Alexander said.

Alexander cited dozens of tests where IBM doctors measured plaintiffs' liver enzymes and blood count but never suggested that their sinus problems, hepatitis, blackouts, bloody noses, pink eye, and other disorders were the symptoms of chemical poisoning.

Robert Weber, an attorney representing IBM, dismissed the notion that acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, and other chemicals in IBM plants caused chemical poisoning or cancer. He said the plaintiffs' case was "pure hokum," and the conclusions of epidemiologists and occupational doctors who appeared as witnesses were "a mountain of speculation."

For the plaintiffs to prevail, nine of 12 jurors must agree that on-the-job chemicals caused systemic chemical poisoning, and IBM doctors knew what the symptoms meant but concealed it from workers.

IBM is facing about 200 similar lawsuits in Silicon Valley, New York, and Minnesota. About 40 of those cases, including one that will go to court March 2 in White Plains, N.Y., involve birth defects in children of IBM workers.

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