A federal jury recently sided with BNSF Railway in a civil lawsuit against a health clinic in Libby, Montana. This ruling means that the Center for Asbestos Related Disease clinic (CARD) may now owe the government millions of dollars, and it may go bankrupt.
But there’s another part to this story, perhaps the most important part. It’s how the people suffering from asbestos exposure are getting buried under the headlines and corporate greed.
The backstory is important
If you’re not familiar with the history of Libby, Montana, the main thing to know about this town of roughly 3,000 people is that it has a long history of asbestos exposure. This owes largely to the vermiculite mine that long employed many of the town’s workers.
The owners knew that asbestos tainted much of the vermiculite, but they failed to protect the miners. Tests found asbestos throughout the mine, but the workers heard only that it was a “nuisance.” The owners didn’t try to mitigate the risks or educate their employees. As a result, many of the miners suffered asbestos exposure. They later developed asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
These workers and their families suffered not only from the diseases they developed, but also from corporate pushback. The government had to create a special court just to deal with the hundreds of lawsuits these miners needed to file. The litigation dragged out for years, but, last year, things finally moved forward. And a jury delivered a $36.5 million verdict in favor of one of the miners.
The real story isn’t about corporations
The real story of Libby, Montana, is about the people who have lived and worked there. These are people who are suffering. Their employers lied to them. Big corporations cheated them. Their lungs are scarred. Their lives have been cut short. They have lost their loved ones. They hoped to find some justice through their cases against BNSF, W. R. Grace Co. and Maryland Casualty Company. And now BNSF may have managed to delay that justice once more.
The law says that companies need to provide reasonably safe workplaces. They need to care for the safety of their workers. And when they don’t do these things, the workers deserve to hold them accountable. BNSF may have slipped free from some of that accountability, but the case may not yet be done.
The judge presiding over the case refused to let a lawmaker speak. This was a lawmaker who had written a specific provision in the Affordable Care Act to help Libby’s asbestos victims. He wanted to explain how the clinic had relied on the provision. Perhaps, the clinic may appeal the ruling, and this lawmaker may yet be able to help Libby’s victims find justice.