Wednesday, March 03, 2004

IBM Settles Birth Defect Lawsuit

After winning a lawsuit brought by two workers who alleged that on-the-job chemical exposures had caused their cancers, IBM settled a lawsuit today brought by a former worker who had blamed her daughter's birth defects on exposure to chemicals at an IBM plant in New York.
IBM spokesman Chris Andrews said the maintained that it held no responsibility for the birth defects of the daughter of Heather Curtis, who took a job at an IBM computer chip plant in Fishkill, New York in 1980.

Curtis' daughter, Candace, who is 23, was born with a rare brain disorder and severe physical deformities.

"The Curtis case has been concluded and dismissed," Andrews said. "IBM firmly believes, based on facts and evidence, that it had no liability in this case and its workplace did not cause the plaintiff's injuries."
This was not the first birth defect lawsuit that IBM has settled
Three years ago, IBM settled a $40 million lawsuit brought by the parents of a boy who was born blind and with physical deformities that prevent him from breathing through his nose or his mouth.

Attorneys who have followed the IBM cases said lawsuits involving injured children are far more difficult to defend than cases of sick adults.

"IBM does not want its name associated with severe birth defects caused to innocent children of its employees, and as such it risked severe reputational damage if the case went to trial, even if it came out in their favor," said Scott Ferrell, a defense attorney at Call, Jensen & Ferrell, whose firm has not been involved in the IBM cases.

"Any time you've got a young child and substantial damages, you are essentially taking a spin on the roulette wheel if you take it to a jury," he said.
IBM may have taken the best way out considering the story that the jury would have heard.
When Heather Curtis took a factory job at IBM in 1980, the pregnant, 22-year-old was assigned to dip silicon wafers into acids and solvents as part of a process used to make computer chips.

Despite complaints that fumes from the job gave her headaches and a sore throat, IBM assured Curtis her workplace was safe, according to her lawyer. Months later, Curtis gave birth to a daughter so severely deformed that she lacked knees and had a skull too small to accommodate her brain....Candace, 23, requires a tube in her throat to breathe. Her hips are deformed, giving her an exaggerated gait and a rare condition called microcephaly gave her a head too small for her brain, leaving her with a low IQ.
Another reason that IBM may have been anxious to settle without a trial is that the burden of proof was lower in this case than in the California cancer case:
In the Silicon Valley case, California's workers' compensation law required that two former IBM employees prove the computer giant fraudulently withheld information about their exposure to toxic chemicals they contend caused them to develop cancer.

The plaintiff's attorneys in the New York case do not face such a hurdle because Candace Curtis was not an IBM employee. But Curtis' attorneys still must convince a White Plains, N.Y., jury that toxic chemicals caused her birth defects and that IBM was negligent in allowing her mother to be exposed to such toxins in the workplace.

"It's a huge, huge difference,'' Curtis' attorney, Will DeProspo, said of the New York case. "There is a traditional negligence theory, such as failure to warn that chemicals used were known to cause cancer and birth defects. . . . We are very excited and optimistic about our chances in New York.''