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Monday, April 7, 2014

Corporate Conspiracy: Has Anything Really Changed?

Today I was watching the recorded episode of yesterday’s episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL), as I was deeply entrenched in the NCAA Final Four competition last night and missed it live. The “cold opening” was a purportedly laughable sketch about the  testimony of the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, on The Hill last week, avoiding questions about the decade long conspiracy to conceal a faulty ignition system in its vehicles.
Actually, I love to multi-task, so I was also reading a summary judgment motion in an asbestos related claim involving a worker who died of mesothelioma, a rare cancer, decades after his initial exposure to asbestos fiber which has been scientifically causally related. Embedded in the allegations of the complaint was a strong argument about the corporate conspiracy of the asbestos industry and its efforts to doctor up scientific studies long ago beginning at the Saranac Laboratories and through subsequent publications.
The players in the asbestos drama were industry leaders such as: Johns-Manville Corporation, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, The Union Asbestos and Rubber Company and Raybestos Manhattan, and others. Those were household names at my dinner table, including the world renown research-physician, Irving J. Selikoff, MD, when I was growing up. I am a second-generation asbestos litigator.  The plot unfolded even more during my career in litigation arising out of the Passaic NJ facility of Raybestos-Manhattan Inc. and fortuitous discovery of the infamous “Sumner Simpson” papers. Albeit that everyone wants to take credit for the discovery, it is yet another story to told on a later date.
The Doctrine of Corporate Conspiracy continues to pervade American Industry as dollars over human life continue to be an unending and tragic plot. Similar allegations have played out in the: tobacco litigation, breast implant litigation, latex glove litigation, medical device litigation, lead paint industry, medical device and pharmaceutical production litigation, complaints about toxic water pollution by drillers and mining companies, and the list goes on and on.
Corporate lobbying changed direction of workers’ compensation in the mid-1950’s with national amendments embracing silica exposure claims into the system. It was the same forefront of the expansion of dust disease claims such as asbestosis. All intentionally done to avoid corporate liability within the nation’s civil justice system. Fortunately, the Courts balanced the playing field, and expanded benefits for injured workers and their families into a most realistic realm of compensatory and punitive damages. The rationale  for the expansion was based of the then trending theory of corporate conspiracy.
I asked myself this afternoon, what has really changed? This week, ironically, is “National Asbestos Awareness Week,” and has asbestos yet been banned in the US? No. Does the same battle continue today to make the workplace safer while fighting corporations that continue to resist, ignore, delay and deny? I listened again to the testimony of the Congressional hearings in Washington this week. Has anything really changed?
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.