French court finds Michelin guilty of negligence in asbestos contamination

CLERMONT-FERRAND, France (16 November 2006) AP - A court in southern France ruled Thursday that tire giant Michelin was guilty of gross negligence for exposing workers to dangerous levels of asbestos, a group representing the victims said.

It was one of several expected rulings in some 40 lawsuits against the company for asbestos-related claims.

Michelin owns three heavily-subsidized plants in Nova Scotia and controls twenty per cent of the world's tire market.

The court in Clermont-Ferrand, where the company is based, ruled in favour of a former worker and the wives of three others who died from complications of a form of lung cancer contracted after asbestos exposure, according to CAPER, a group that represents the workers and that received a copy of the ruling Thursday morning.

The group welcomed the decision as psychologically important for workers exposed to asbestos. The workers or their families will now be entitled to disability payments twice as high as before, the group said.

Michelin said it had not yet decided whether to appeal.

"Asbestos was used as a thermal insulator at a time when the risks to employees were not well-known," spokeswoman Francoise Rault said. "Of course, if we had known that asbestos endangered employees' health, we would have done everything to eliminate the risks."

It was not immediately clear whether the company would face fines after the ruling.

The workers were exposed in the 1960s and 1970s. The victims' lawyer, Jean-Paul Teissonniere, said in September hearings that the dangers of asbestos were known as far back as 1965 and alleged that Michelin sought to keep them secret from their employees.

He said the four workers in question had insulated 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) of pipes with asbestos each month as late as 1973.

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