Canada’s Asbestos Policy Turns On Its Supporters

It actually happened in a U.S. court, and one of the defendants was auto parts company Borg-Warner of Michigan. Nonetheless, it is Asbestos Corporation Ltd. of Canada that will bear the brunt of a $30.3-million judgment recently awarded by a New Jersey court. It is Canada’s asbestos industry–centered in the province of Quebec–that has pressured legislators in the Canadian Parliament to protect and promote that nation’s asbestos industry. Now, however, Asbestos Corporation Ltd. faces paying out not only millions of dollars in damages, but millions more in expensive legal fees. The plaintiff, Mark Buttitta, died of mesothelioma in on 20 December 2002 at the age of 50. As a youth, he spent his summers working at a GM auto parts warehouse in Englewood, New Jersey, where his father was also employed. As an adult, Buttitta ran an advertising firm, the clients of which included Coca Cola and Northwest Airlines.

The plaintiff’s family alleged that Buttitta was not only exposed to asbestos fibers at the warehouse, but also from asbestos fibers carried home on his clothing and in his hair as well as that of his father. According to the suit, the elder Buttitta as well as Mark and his brother would wear the same asbestos-contaminated work clothing for days at a time. This resulted in “secondary exposure,” which is at the heart of a current asbestos trial in Tennessee; recently, a paper mill in Washington State was also found liable in a case in which a woman died because of similar secondary exposure. Buttitta is survived by his wife and three daughters, who were awarded what is believed to be the largest such award in New Jersey history. Asbestos Corporation Ltd. is expected to appeal the ruling. It is not known if the Canadian government will come to the aid of the company, should it lose its appeal. In 2003, Buttitta’s family established a fund for research on prevention, treatment, and a cure for mesothelioma.