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IBM wins defense verdict in San Jose workers' toxic tort litigation case

February 2004

In the first "toxic tort" case involving the microelectronics industry to go to trial anywhere in the U.S., Jones Day successfully obtained a unanimous defense verdict for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in a California jury trial. This trial involved what were thought to be two bellwether plaintiffs, whom their lawyers had long touted to the media as their two strongest cases.

The cases were brought under a state law "fraudulent concealment" exception to workers' compensation exclusivity, under which the plaintiffs had argued that they each had suffered a work-related injury, called "systemic chemical poisoning," due to their workplace exposures to chemicals at IBM's disk drive manufacturing facility in San Jose, California. In addition, the plaintiffs contended that IBM allegedly knew and concealed these matters from each of the plaintiffs, and that as a result of this alleged concealment, their initial injuries had aggravated into breast cancer in one plaintiff and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the other plaintiff. Plaintiffs had sought unspecified damages as well as punitive damages.

After more than four months of trial and the testimony of some 40 witnesses in Santa Clara County Superior Court, the jury of 11 women and one man deliberated for only a day-and-a-half before returning their unanimous defense verdict in the case of both plaintiffs, finding that neither plaintiff had suffered "systemic chemical poisoning." As a result, the jury necessarily concluded that IBM had not committed "fraudulent concealment" as to either one of the plaintiffs. (At the conclusion of the evidence, the court had granted IBM's motion for directed verdict as to the punitive damages claims.)

On the eve of trial, the court also had granted IBM's motions for summary judgment on the claims of two other former workers, each of whom also had made similar allegations of "fraudulent concealment" that purportedly resulted in breast cancer in one plaintiff and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the other plaintiff. Had the court not granted summary judgment, the claims of both of those plaintiffs would have been included in the first trial as well.

These were the first four of more than 40 similar, pending cases brought by former employees or their survivors against IBM on the West Coast and another 200 pending cases brought by former employees or their survivors against IBM on the East Coast. Given the novelty of the San Jose lawsuit and the potential implications of an adverse verdict for IBM and the entire industry, the trial was highly publicized by the plaintiffs' lawyers on both coasts, receiving significant attention from an often-hostile media as far away as India and Taiwan, and was closely monitored by the microelectronics and semiconductor industries. This litigation featured prominently not only in the local press in Northern California but also in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune magazine, and even 60 Minutes II.

The team's success was a real testament to the one-Firm concept, as reflected by the superb and coordinated efforts of Jones Day lawyers from six different offices.

In re San Jose IBM Workers Litigation, Case No. 1-98-CV-772093 (Super. Ct., Santa Clara Cty., Cal.)

For additional information about this matter, please contact: Mary Ellen Powers

Client(s): International Business Machines Corporation