andrew schneider investigates

March 19, 2009

Court tells Chrysler to back off and allow asbestos victim to be buried; meanwhile the automaker’s PR staff is busy lobbying for billions more from tax-payers.

Filed under: Asbestos,Government & corporate wrong-doing,Worker Safety — Andrew Schneider @ 10:21

Harold St. John will finally be buried over the strenuous objections of the Chrysler automotive company.

As if death by mesothelioma wasn’t traumatic enough, the auto giant made the family of the 67-year-old former auto mechanic spend almost two weeks bouncing from court to court before a New Jersey appellate court decided to end the corporation’s heartless interference.

St. John died Feb. 28. On March 4, as his casket was about to be lowered into the ground at graveside services in a Spotswood, N.J. cemetery, a process server who attended the funeral called a halt to the burial and handed the funeral director the court order not to bury the body.

The court said St. John’s body was to be returned to the mortuary. Chrysler and its gang wanted an autopsy performed on the man. The man’s wife objected to the needless procedure on religious grounds.

The St. John’s family had sued the automaker and five related companies claiming that St. John had contracted the deadly cancer from exposure to asbestos while working at his father’s Jersey City auto shop, which was said to be the oldest auto repair shop in the state.

The former mechanic had mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. What was bizarre, was that both sides in the suit had already stipulated that St. John died from that specific disease.

So why force an autopsy?

Another act that highlights the absurdity of Chrysler‘s actions was that they had already obtained a tissue sample from the site of St. John’s mesothelioma, the lung lining,  when he was still alive.

So for two weeks, the family watched the decision on what was going to happen to the body of their husband and father go from superior court to appellate court and back. Finally, on Tuesday, the high court said enough.

Chrysler was not happy, and they were dim-witted enough to say so publicly.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported that Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese said, “We are disappointed with the decision of the New Jersey (appeals court). We are considering our legal options.

“At no time did Chrysler intend any disrespect to the late Mr. St. John or to his family at this difficult time.”

And then he added: “Numerous epidemiological studies have refuted the link between automotive products and asbestos-related disease. We expect to prevail when this matter goes to trial.”

Right. And the hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that prove that link don’t count any more?

Dr. David Egilman, an occupational medicine specialist with an extensive background in asbestos-related disease, testified on behalf of the St. John family.

He questions the “purported scientific basis of Chrysler’s rather ghoulish request.” And talks about a cartoon where a man is looking for his keys under a streetlight. Someone who’s helping him search asks where he lost the keys, and the man said on the next block, but added that he was looking here because the light is better.

That’s what Chrysler is trying to do with the autopsy request, Egilman says.

They’d already found the asbestos in the lining of the lung at the site of the disease, but now they want to search inside the lung, so they can report that nothing was found, explains the physician.

“That’s not where asbestos from mesothelioma is found.”

I’ve got a call into the automaker’s lawyers for comment, but don’t hold your breath.

There are thousands of asbestos injury cases brought every year in this country. I really want to know why Chrysler chose this case, at this time, to bring attention to this issue.

Where was Chrysler’s high priced public relations team throughout all of this?

Oh, wait a second. I know. They were in Washington asking Congress for a few more billions of taxpayer money so they can stay in business.


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