Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eternit Trial: Pretrial motions

A judge in Torino is hearing an asbestos criminal case against two major shareholder of Eternit SA. After a few hearings, the trial is not open. Pretrial motion are in fact still pending.

6392 victims filed motions to intervene as civil claimants in the trial. Under Italian law (as well as under the law of several European jurisdictions), a person entitled to recover (under tort law or criminal law) damages caused by conduct that is also relevant from a criminal standpoint, can intervene in a criminal trial and have their claim adjudicated along with issues of criminal liability of the defendant. Ordinarily, the judge presiding the criminal trial limits her judgment to issues of civil liability remanding question of damages to a different judge.

Defendants have raised two defenses. First, they requested the court to deny some of the motions because they were filed by victims who had been exposed to asbestos in the course of employment at a plant that was not formally included in criminal charges. Second, defendants filed liability releases forms signed by some of the victims in 1993, in connection to an earlier settlement. Based on my experience, these releases are not likely to be sufficient to deny the motions to intervene as they pertained to a different crime. Similar documents were part of the trial record in the Petrolchimico trial back in the 1990s. However, the trial judges did not consider them.

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