IBM settles ‘fab fumes crippled our kid’ case

But has 200 more of them coming round the corner

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IBM has settled a rather nasty lawsuit brought by two former employees of its East Fishkill, New York chip foundry.

Michael Ruffing and Faye Calton claim their 15-year-old son's congenital blindness and facial deformities - the latter causing breathing difficulties - were the direct result of their exposure to toxins while working at Big Blue's plant.

The couple sued IBM back in 1997. The terms of the settlement were not made public, but IBM's statement about the case notes that it does not accept liability but "the vast majority of civil cases in America terminate without a trial, and that is particularly true as regards cases involving novel and complex issues of law, science and fact".

That suggests both parties feel that if the case did go to court, there would be much legal wrangling, success would not be certain for either plaintiff or defendant, and the only real winners would be the lawyers. Certainly, State Supreme Court Justice John DiBlasi has noted that, had it come to court, the case would be a precedent-setter. As such it would likely be long and expensive.

It's not hard, then, to imagine both parties agreeing that a sum be paid by IBM to compensate Ruffing, Calton and son, in return for an cessation of legal hostilities. IBM obviously wants the case off its back.

And well it might. With over 200 similar cases in the legal pipeline, from parents formerly employed not only at the East Fishkill plant but at sites in Vermont and California, according to Associated Press.

Chip production involves some pretty noxious substances, such as the decidedly nasty hydrofluoric acid used to etch the silicon wafers. Many other chemicals used in the chip-making process are known carcinogens.

That's one of the chief reasons why environmentalists and local people were up in arms last summer over Intel's plans to build a £15 billion extension to its Leixlip, County Kildare foundry. ®

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