Cancer suit threatens chip industry

CIOL Bureau
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SAN JOSE: Cancer lawsuits filed against IBM have caught the attention of the chip industry and demonstrate the threat posed by aggressive lawyers looking to take on wealthy businesses, Intel Corp. Chief Executive, Craig Barrett said.

"Since Dow Corning and breast implants, and asbestos, I mean, it's on everybody's mind," Barrett told reporters. "It's really what could potentially happen when you start to take the plaintiff's bar and give them some ammunition, real or not."

The suits against International Business Machines Corp. involve more than 200 former and current employees who blame exposure to chemicals in chip and hard drive plants for giving them cancer and their children birth defects.

In a recent development, a 73-year-old former IBM factory worker at the center, who had suffered breast cancer, told a court that she was regularly exposed to chemicals that stained her skin.

The cases have raised fears of a broader liability for the electronics industry.

While declining to give his views on the validity of the cases against IBM, Barrett said such suits showed the risks to business from a lawsuit-hungry U.S. society.

"From a general standpoint, it's just the litigious nature of the U.S. -- class action lawsuits, and the plaintiffs bar go after everybody," he said. "They're interested in not wealth creation but wealth redistribution."

Barrett said he did not believe Intel, the world's largest chip-maker, was a party to any litigation similar to the IBM cases.

"We're watching it to see what happens," he said. "Right now it's an issue between IBM and their former employees."

As electronics production increasingly moves to countries with regulations on worker health weaker than in the United States, Barrett said investment by big U.S. chip makers would ease the problem of unsafe working conditions."

"We export the toughest environmental standards wherever we go around the world," he said after a press conference with New York Gov. George Pataki on state support for the chip industry.

© Reuters