IBM Settles California Cancer Lawsuits, Terms Not Disclosed

Dozens of IBM Corp. (IBM) workers and retirees who alleged that exposure to toxic chemicals caused them to develop cancer had their cases dismissed after a settlement, the company announced Wednesday.

The cases hinged on whether workers developed cancer after years of work at IBM's disk drive plant in San Jose. The dismissals of about 50 former and current California workers, signed by IBM and plaintiffs' attorney Richard Alexander, came after a settlement whose terms were not disclosed.

Earlier this year, two of Alexander's plaintiffs who suffered liver disease, breast and brain cancers while working in the San Jose plant lost their cases after a four-month jury trial. At least 100 similar cases against Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM are pending in New York, Minnesota and elsewhere.

IBM confirmed Wednesday that the California cases had been settled and dismissed but would not provide additional information. Alexander and Amanda Hawes, who represented the plaintiffs, did not return phone calls.

In February, a California jury ruled unanimously that two retired workers, Alida Hernandez and James Moore, did not develop systemic chemical poisoning at IBM, despite workplace exposure to trichloroethylene, cadmium, toluene, benzene, arsenic and other toxins. Jurors also ruled that Big Blue did not lie to the workers about the safety of the San Jose factory.

The plaintiffs, who were diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s, were seeking millions of dollars in damages. IBM doctors knew that an alarming number of workers in its semiconductor "fabs" were dying from rare cancers in their 30s, 40s and 50s, plaintiffs argued, but executives misled workers and tried to hide a "corporate mortality file" that documented the deaths.

In March, IBM settled a $100 million lawsuit by Candace Curtis, born with severe birth defects allegedly caused by her mother's working conditions at an IBM plant in Fishkill, N.Y. That case was settled just as jury selection was to start, and terms were not released.

IBM settled another $40 million birth defect lawsuit in 2001 by the parents of a deformed son born blind and with severe respiratory abnormalities.

The semiconductor industry and thousands of Americans who have worked in chip plants have been watching the cases anxiously. Although most microchip factories have dramatically improved safety in dust-free "clean rooms," companies still operate fabs in several states and overseas.

Shares in IBM rose 77 cents to close at $90.79 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange (search).