For over half a century, Richard Hawley worked on farms and ranches throughout the American heartland, maintaining the machinery used in the industry that fed the country–and people around the world. On 1 July 2007, Hawley was diagnosed with mesothelioma, to which he attributes his employment as a mechanic and in construction. Last week, Hawley filed suit in the “judicial hellhole” of Madison County, Illinois, where corporations are generally held accountable for their crimes against people. Hawley’s lawsuit names 98 defendants, which includes General Electric, Owens-Illinois and Union Carbide. The suit also names Bondex, CBS, Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Goodyear, John Crane, John Deere, MetLife, Philips Electronics and Western Auto.
The suit alleges that these defendants knew, or should have known, about the health hazards of the asbestos used in their products and failed to provide any warnings or safety instruction. The suit further alleges that asbestos was used in these products despite the fact that adequate substitutes existed. Given corporate behavior, Hawley’s claim that he has been denied disclosure of pertinent documents and his allegations that documents exist which prove these corporations were aware of the dangers of asbestos is not surprising–and such allegations are very likely to be true. Because health care in the U.S. is not universally provided by the government, Hawley is forced to seek damages in order to cover the cost of his treatment. The amount in question is over $300,000, plus punitive damages. Asbestos is still found in over 3,000 products manufactured in the U.S. today. Although amphibole asbestos is banned, chrysotile is still legal and widely used in brake linings and other industrial products. Although the “Ban Asbestos in America Act” was recently passed in Congress, corporate lobbyists have all but ensured that the final legislation will be so weakened as to defeat its purpose, meaning that chrysotile will continue to be legally marketed and used in the U.S.