Tuesday, March 10, 2009

W.R. Grace Trial

Somehow I have failed to mention anything about W.R. Grace's legal troubles. For those who do not know W.R. Grace is a chemical company who has had more than a few run-ins with legal actions since it was founded more than a century ago. Perhaps its most famous case was the one chronicled in A Civil Action (book and movie) where it was eventually prosecuted and forced to pay for the clean up of chemicals in Woburn, MA.

Now that notoriety may be eclipsed with the current trial that W.R. Grace is going through. The case is United States v. W.R. Grace et al. What is interesting is that this is not a civil action. This is a criminal case. W.R. Grace and seven former executives were indicted on ten counts including wire fraud, conspiracy, knowing endangerment, and obstruction of justice.

The individual defendants in the case could face as little as 5 years and up to 70 years if convicted. W.R. Grace itself could be fined as much 280 million dollars (based on a fine of double the profits made from the wrongdoing). The amount of time would depend on how the jury finds. Of course, if the jury comes back with a not guilty verdict, then they face nothing.

The case concerns one of W.R. Grace's operations was a mine in Libby, Montana. At this location, W.R. Grace mined vermicullite asbestos. The theory is essentially that the W.R. Grace operation was run in such a way as to expose the entire town to asbestos dust. It is alleged that the mining operation is responsible for 192 asbestoes-related deaths and the cause of 375 people suffering from asbestos related diseases.

To put that in perspective, the town of Libby has a total of 2,626 people. That works out to almost 15% of the town's population suffering from an asbestos-related illness. Furthermore, given the latency for most asbestos caused illnesses, more will be reported in the coming years.

Anyways, there is a very good live-blogging effort to cover the trial. The University of Montana's School of Law and School of Journalism has students in the courtroom blogging (and twittering if you follow those). The blog can be found at Grace Case. Read it when you have the time.

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