The company exposed its workers to asbestos
By Cassia Almeida, O Globo (Rio de Janeiro), February 27, 2016
A group of former Eternit employees who were exosed to asbestos at the Eternit plant in Osasco, State of São Paulo, Brazil; photo by Eliária Andrade / Agência O Globo
RIO- The Eternit company was sentenced to pay over 400 million reais (US$100 million) in damages for exposing workers to asbestos. The amount was established by Judge Raquel Gabbai de Oliveira, of the 9th Circuit Court of the Ministry of Labor in São Paulo. It is the largest award ever imposed on the company, which is involved in the asbestos business in Brazil. In her decision the judge combined two lawsuits: one by the Prosecutor of the Federal Ministry of Labor, seeking compensation for collective moral damages and for the costs of medical care; and a second by the Brazilian Association of People Exposed to Asbestos (Abrea) which was asked for compensation for every former worker who has been exposed to the carcinogenic fiber—already prohibited in over 60 countries—including the neighboring countries of Argentina and Uruguay.
Eternit had no comment regarding the decision, pointing out that it had not yet received official notification of the decision.
“Extensive and well-founded documentation has proved that the defendant enterprise exposed its former employees and society at large to a carcinogenic substance, whose dangerous qualities have been known for more than a century, and that contact with this substance can cause diseases which have already caused serious harm to some of the former workers and which can still victimize others. In addition to the serious damage to the health of individuals, there are also risks to the health of the public at large from the dust generated during the operation of the factory,” said the judge in her decision of last Friday [February 26th].
The judge’s decision awards 100 million reais [US$25 million] in collective damages which will create a fund to support those people who have become ill as a result of their exposure to asbestos. In her ruling the judge also established a compensation fund worth 300 million reais [US$125 million] for pain and suffering, to reimburse people for the kind of permanent damage which radically changes the life of each person and each worker who is already sick. These damages will also be paid to the children and the widows of workers who have died as a result of their exposure to asbestos. The decision also requires that Eternit reimburse each worker who has been exposed to asbestos in the amount of 50,000 reais [US$12,500], a sum which could rise if the person become sick. Furthermore, he decision orders the company to provide comprehensive lifetime medical care and to pay for informational announcements on major television channels so that the firm’s workers and their relatives can claim the benefits established by Court’s decision.
Though the decision by the lower court is subject to appeal, it still constitutes a landmark step in the struggle to ban asbestos, according to Abrea attorney Mauro Menezes:
“This is a truly historic, innovative, and forward-looking decision, which took a great deal of courage. Certainly justice is on our side. It deals with the Osasco factory which is a national symbol of environmental disaster and damage to the health of workers.
It was in Osasco that Abrea was born and where the movement for asbestos justice and for a total ban on the use of this deadly carcinogen [in Brazil] first took shape”
THE LARGEST JUDGEMENT EVER AGAINST ETERNIT
According to Prosecutor Márcia Kamei Lopez Aliada of the Ministry of Labor, who is also the assistant director of the Ministry’s National Program to Ban Asbestos, the damages imposed by the decision of the 9th Labor Circuit Court are the largest ever imposed on Eternit.
“The Court recognized that [working with asbestos] is a dangerous activity which was badly managed by the company. It found that the health of a number of people was affected. After this judgement, we should raise questions about how long activities of this type should be allowed to continue in Brazil.”
Abrea attorney Menezes noted that his organization has already registered from 750 to 800 workers:
“The compensation to these individuals under this new decision could end up costingfrom 250 million to 300 million reais [US$62.5 to US$75 million]. But we plan to appeal this decision and raise the amount even higher.”
The decision creates two judicial precedents: it did no specify a statute-of-limitations for the specified benefits, since the illnesses can begin to manifest themselves as many as 30 years following first exposure to the asbestos fiber; and it did not specify a requirement for proof that the illness was specifically linked to exposure to asbestos. The company itself was convicted for exposing its workers to a cancer-causing substance.
“The public repercussion of these illnesses goes way beyond their financial implications, because these illnesses can have a pernicious effect on the life of entire families and on how its members relate to each other. The number of people who will end up being affected by asbestos-related diseases is still uncertain. In many families children have lost their parents and have had to deal with premature disability and extremely painful illnesses and deaths, in the cases of cancer. Other victims and their family members are forced to deal for a long period of illness from a declining ability to breathe because of [asbestos-related] ‘lungs of stone’” said the judge in her decision.
Publicity about the decision
According to Fernanda Giannasi, a Ministry of Labor safety inspector and one of the founders of Abrea, the struggle to ban asbestos has taken a major step forward with the present decision:
“This decision creates on important precedent. Previous judicial decisions have been very conservative.”
The Prosecutor’s office of the Ministry of Labor has now opened a similar lawsuit against as asbestos factory in Guadalupe, State of Rio de Janeiro; and is contemplating similar suits against production facilities the State of Bahia and in Curitiba, the capital of the State of Paraná.
To find out more about this issue, people can go to
http://oglobo.globo.com/economia/eternit-condenada-pagar-mais-de-400-milhoes-ex-funcionarios-18766483#ixzz41a3zdUXM published in the years 1996-2016. All rights to these materials are owned by Infoglobo Comunicação e Participações S.A. This materials may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without authorization.
[Translation by Daniel M. Berman, Davis, California, USA, February 29, 2016]