SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In a major victory for the electronics industry, a jury decided yesterday that IBM Corp. was not responsible for cancers that developed in two former employees at a disk drive plant.
A jury deliberated for less than two days before clearing the computer company of claims that the harsh chemicals used in the factory contributed to the disease that afflicted the two retirees in the 1990s.
The trial, which was the first of more than 200 similar civil lawsuits against IBM, riveted the high-tech industry, in which workers don protective suits to shield both themselves and sensitive electronics.
The two retirees who brought the case contended that IBM hid the dangers of their job. IBM said the decisive victory vindicated Big Blue.
"We're pleased with the result," said IBM spokesman Chris Andrews. "It's an acknowledgment that employee safety and health is part of our culture."
Retiree James Moore, 62, began working for IBM in the 1960s and suffers from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His attorney asked jurors to award him $11,000 per year for the rest of his life in lost wages, $26,000 in medical expenses, and possibly millions for pain and suffering.
Moore looked unemotional as the verdict was read in Santa Clara County Superior Court. Afterward, he said he felt disappointed and betrayed.
"I trusted these guys. I trusted IBM," Moore said. "If I knew then what I know now, I would have walked off the job."
Alida Hernandez, 73, a 14-year veteran of the San Jose plant, said during three months of courtroom testimony that IBM intentionally hoodwinked workers about the foul-smelling chemical mixtures that soaked her chest and arms.
Hernandez suffered from liver damage and breast cancer that resulted in a mastectomy, and she was asking for at least $8 million.
"The only thing I can say is at least I got the word out," Hernandez said.
"I hope someday California will change the law so they will tell people what they are working with, and so it won't be a silent poisoning."
In closing arguments, IBM attorney Robert Weber called the case "pure hokum," dismissing the notion that the chemicals caused poisoning or cancer.
Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM is facing similar lawsuits in Silicon Valley, New York, and Minnesota, including about 40 involving birth defects in children of IBM workers. The first of those other cases is due to go to court Tuesday in White Plains, N.Y.