By on March 9, 2009

Injuryboard.com, a website dedicated to promoting safety, protecting lives and chasing ambulances (I made that last one up, ish) writes:

The funeral of Harold St. John, a retired airline employee and former auto mechanic who died from mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure, was interrupted at a New Jersey cemetery last week when, in a new moral low for defense tactics, a Chrysler official arrived with subpoena for his body.

The subpoena, which prevented the burial from taking place, was issued so that more tests could be performed to determine the cause of death. Before he died, 67-year-old St. John had sued Chrysler, along with Honeywell, claiming that the automobile brake linings he used to install in his father’s auto shop in the 50s and 60s had caused his illness.

The trial was set to begin March 9. Unexpectedly, St. John died on February 28. Though he had undergone a painful biopsy to provide a lung tissue sample while still living, Chrysler insisted on taking the body from its burial site before it could be laid to rest.

ChryCo spokesman Mike Palesi’s statement after the jump.

“Chrysler’s sympathies are with the St. John family for their loss. Unfortunately, this process is routine in such matters in order to preserve tissue needed to establish the cause of asbestos-related disease. Chrysler acted in a timely fashion, in accordance with directions from the New Jersey Court of Appeals, and in full knowledge of the family’s attorneys. Numerous epidemiological studies have, indeed, refuted the link between automotive products and asbestos-related disease.” -WCBSTV

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29 Comments on “Chrysler Crashes Funeral, Snatches Body for Asbestos Lawsuit...”


  • avatar
    TexN

    Wow. Just wow. See you in hell, Chrysler!

  • avatar
    Qwerty

    I don’t see what the problem is. A guy files a bogus lawsuit and we are supposed to get upset that the defendent does what is necessary to defend itself?

    The outrage here is that he and his lawyers can file frivolous lawsuits with no consequences.

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    I think the key outrage here isn’t that Chrysler is attempting to collect evidence in it’s defence, through tissue samples from the plaintiff, but how and when such evidence collecting was initiated. It’s one thing to do tests on a body; it’s another to interrupt a funeral. What’s wrong with Chrysler asking for the funeral to be delayed until they get their samples? What happened to human decency? Nothing like pissing off the man’s families. Bet I know what cars they won’t be buying.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Timing befitting a prime-time television drama.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Well, it says that Chrysler acted in full knowledge of the family’s attorneys, so perhaps they were trying to get him buried before Chrysler could collect evidence?

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Bet I know what cars they won’t be buying.

    Bet I do, too…but also because it’s quite likely that there won’t be any Chrysler, LLC from which to buy said cars.

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    NulloModo:

    A Chrysler spokesman said they acted in full knowledge of the family’s attorneys. Nothing from the families or said attorneys. I’d take that with a big dump truck load of salt. Chances are, the families attorneys happened to be present at some appeal hearing, or some such thing, and they didn’t know Chrysler was going to interrupt a funeral. That’s my bet.

    And just as an aside, how much does anyone want to bet the Chrysler representative showed up in a Ford Crown Vic or Chevy Impala, and not a Chrysler car from the local rental place.

  • avatar
    John R

    The outrage here is that he and his lawyers can file frivolous lawsuits with no consequences.

    How do you know it was frivolous?

    In any event, I agree that Chrysis is entitled to tissue samples for their own review, but come on, interrupting a funeral? Ask for a delay. Can’t get a delay and it seems like the family is getting rid of the body quickly? Dig it up again after the ritual.

    What ever happened to tact?

    I guess whatever tact Chrysis had left got penny-pinched out along with the rest of their materials.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    And just as an aside, how much does anyone want to bet the Chrysler representative showed up in a Ford Crown Vic or Chevy Impala, and not a Chrysler car from the local rental place.

    I bet the chances are quite high that he showed up in a Chysler rental. You ever see how many Sebrings and 300s those places have? He probably cruised up to the gravesite in a Sebring convertible, top down. Dropped the papers, jumped in over the door, and hauled ass!

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Although there are problems with frivolous asbestos lawsuits, there are good data linking occupational exposure with development of mesothelioma. 10 years is the average exposure time needed.

    Reminds me of an incident with an experimental cardiac defibrillator 15 years ago – per the research protocol, the device had to be returned to the manufacturer after the poor fellow was done with it. You can guess the rest.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    I don’t see any evidence that suggests the suit was unwarranted. It wouldn’t go to trial if it didn’t pass any initial evidence hearing.

    Would this have happened if Chrysler was master of its own house instead of Cerberus?

  • avatar
    gamper

    Pain and Suffering my friends, setting the jury up for Punative damages. I suspect that waiting until the funeral could have easily been a Plaintiff tactic to win more damages as this looks aweful in the eyes of a jury. Also, the blog lists two defendants. Honeywell may have been equally if not more to blame for the timing. In any event, mesothelioma is a very nasty disease, always fatal, some experts may say otherwise, it is widely accepted science that the disease is the result of asbestos exposure (at least in most cases).

    All I am saying is that there is probably more going on here than the story suggests. Also, the blog seems somewhat suspect as it appears to be a site catering to the Plaintiff personal injury bar.

  • avatar
    windswords

    NulloModo:

    “Well, it says that Chrysler acted in full knowledge of the family’s attorneys, so perhaps they were trying to get him buried before Chrysler could collect evidence?”

    I think you nailed it. Others have said, “well they could just dig up the body after the service”. One, that would cost more moeny, but more importantly, once a body is in the ground, you can bet the family’s attorneys would fight tooth and nail to prevent the body from being exhumed. And they might win. Oh, and the court fight over exhuming the body would cost even more money (read waayy more) than the actual exhumation. The lawyers fighting the exhumation would be the same lawyers sueing for wrongful death so they would provide their services for free in hopes of a big payoff. Chrysler would have to pay it’s lawyers for everything. So it’s understandable to try prevent the burial from happening in the first place. The fact that Chrysler’s lawyers went to all this trouble tells me they think this is important. If the tissue sample while he was still alive was enough there was no reason to do this. I know we all like to think that corporations are evil and they get their jollies being vindictive but this would be just a waste of time and money if there wasn’t something to it.

    The lawsuit itself is not frivolus. But the money they are asking for might be. I bet it’s $50 million, so they can later negotiate it down to $5 million. When that kind of money is at stake, this is the kind of stuff you will see.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Classy!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It’s the caption photo from Six Feet Under?

  • avatar
    kericf

    It also says he gave a tissue biopsy while still living, I would think that sample would be much more valuable than one after he is dead. Whether the family is trying to play a quick one or not Chrysler comes out looking bad in the whole mess.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    I have an EPA asbestos inspector certification in NJ, so I know a bit about asbestos exposure and its risks.

    Mesothelioma is an extremely rare cancer of the Mesothelium. Its occurrence is almost always associated with asbestos fiber exposure.

    Mesothelioma is a particularly lethal form of cancer. It claims its victims usually in 6 months or less.

    Mesothelioma cases are problematic because the victims of the disease usually die well before the legal process can finish. Preserving the body as evidence of disease is important to the case.

    Did the brake linings cause his disease? It’s impossible to say. The building he worked in could have been the source of the exposure, the brake linings, clutches, and thermal insulation in cars could have also been the source of his exposure.

    Smoking also compounds asbestos exposure risk. There is a synergistic relationship between asbestos exposure and smoking. Did he smoke? That may have also been a contributing factor to his fatal disease.

    It sucks that the burial had to be interrupted this way, but when you file a lawsuit like this, your attorney should have known that preservation of the body would have been required by the courts.

    -ted

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    I think everyone is confused. Chrysler didn’t come to seize the body for a lawsuit. As a representative of Cerberus, they were just trying to make sure he made it to Hades.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “It’s the caption photo from Six Feet Under?”

    Absolutely. That was quite a TV show.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    By the time the funeral rolls around, the body has been embalmed, hasn’t it?

    So, will Chrylser be arguing that he wasn’t killed by asbestos exposure but, rather, by a lethal dose of embalming fluid?

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Qwerty:

    Wah, the lawyers. You and some idiotic French Canadians are the only people left that don’t think long term asbestos exposure causes cancer.

    You could make a lot of money in asbestos removal since you think it’s safe. You wouldn’t need to buy special suits or respirators or anything.

    It’s incredibly expensive to file a lawsuit, the only people left filing frivolous lawsuits are major corporations hoping that they people they sue don’t have enough money to defend themselves.

    Google trademark or patent law cases if you want to learn about people abusively filing suits that have no real basis.

    Or look up mergers and acquisitions. It’s incredibly common for a large company to buy a small company, and then sue the sellers for incredibly BS allegations of violations of the representations and warranties, since it will be cheaper for the sellers to settle than fight.

  • avatar
    johnthacker

    What’s wrong with Chrysler asking for the funeral to be delayed until they get their samples?

    Speaking of what’s in the article, why are you assuming that they didn’t ask? The family could have simply not wanted to delay the funeral, forcing Chrysler to crash it. There’s certainly not full details in this story.

    You and some idiotic French Canadians are the only people left that don’t think long term asbestos exposure causes cancer.

    Long term asbestos exposure certainly does cause a very specific type of mesothelioma, yes. But it’s the sort of long term exposure involved with mining asbestos, removing asbestos, or manufacturing products with it. “Long term exposure” of being around sealed asbestos doesn’t seem to do it. (In some cases, then, asbestos removal is worse than leaving it in place, as you disturb the fibers and expose the workers removing it.) Just installing the occasional brake pad may or may not be sufficient.

  • avatar
    fallout11

    The key to potentially hazardous asbestos exposure is its friability.
    Friable asbestos is a term used to describe any asbestos-containing material that when dry, can be easily crumbled or pulverized to powder. Material that contains more than just 1% asbestos and is friable is considered to be Regulated Asbestos-Containing Material (RACM).

    Some common examples of friable asbestos are acoustic ceilings and tiles, many types of plasters, wallboard, joint compound or “mud” and thermal insulation for water heaters and pipes. Although use of asbestos in these products was banned by 1978 those already in the marketplace remained on the shelves and were used in construction for many years after. They are still commonly found in homes today.

    Non-friable asbestos-containing material (ACM) is not regulated because it contains a binder or hardening agent such as cement, asphalt or vinyl. Examples of ACM are asphalt roofing shingles, vinyl asbestos floor tiles and adhesive and transite siding made with cement. ACM products are still being manufactured today. The danger with this type of material is that it can pose the same hazard as friable asbestos during remodeling, repairs or other construction. Burning ACM also creates friable asbestos.

    Asbestos brake pads were themselves non-friable and hard, little danger from regular exposure. However, the brake dust produced by the grinding of these pads in use, and the service of worn and ground pads, would definitely expose someone to plenty of this. Once the powdered asbestos was inhaled, the damage is done.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    Good luck trying to get anything from Chrysler before they are buried!

  • avatar
    50merc

    The article leaves many questions unanswered (heck, they were probably never asked), as today’s “journalists” are wont to do. The net effect, of course, is to bias the report against Chrysler. (Note: I’m not saying Chrysler acted with honor, just that it can’t be determined from mostly one-side coverage. And if you think the printed piece is inflammatory, watch the WCBS report to see how real slantmasters do it. Close reading, however, suggests there may be more to the story:

    “a process server had been sent to observe the funeral and once the mourners left the grave he served the funeral director with papers demanding the body be brought back to his funeral home. The idea of it still outrages surviving son Dennis.

    “They waited until we left,” he choked out between sobs. “I don’t get it.” [Yeah, it would have been so much more respectful to have barged into the middle of the service, like a scene from the movie The Graduate]

    Mike Palesi, a spokesman for the car company, issued a statement from Detroit:

    “Chrysler’s sympathies are with the St. John family for their loss. Unfortunately, this process is routine in such matters [specifics, please] in order to preserve tissue needed to establish the cause of asbestos-related disease. Chrysler acted in a timely fashion, in accordance with directions from the New Jersey Court of Appeals, and in full knowledge of the family’s attorneys. [A good reporter would have pursued these points.] Numerous epidemiological studies have, indeed, refuted the link between automotive products and asbestos-related disease.” [Say, could you cite some of these studies?]

    The family, though, said the lawsuit has been in the works for more than a year and that Harold underwent a painful biopsy to provide a tissue sample from the pleural lining of his cancer-ridden lungs while he was still alive.

    “They have all the evidence they need,” Debbie insisted. “It’s a stall tactic. They’re ruthless.” [OK, Chrysler why did you want more samples?]

    A hearing has been scheduled for Monday … where the family vows to fight the demand for additional tissue samples, they said on principle. [So your refusal has nothing to do with protecting your claim?] Until the issue is resolved Harold St. John’s body will remain at the … Funeral home … [In other words, the family\'s principles--not to mention lawsuit tactics--are more important that laying the fellow to rest. Oh, I suppose they could sue Chrysler for offending them--but that would run up against the fact a court authorized taking additional samples.]

    fallout11: “Asbestos brake pads were themselves non-friable and hard, little danger from regular exposure. However, the brake dust produced by the grinding of these pads in use, and the service of worn and ground pads, would definitely expose someone to plenty of this. Once the powdered asbestos was inhaled, the damage is done.”

    Many years ago a friend and I were replacing brake shoes on a Model A. It was a tight fit, so we took the new shoes to a shop. A friendly mechanic interrupted his work to grind down the asbestos. Dust was flying everywhere, and we three (without masks, of course) stood next to the machine until enough material had been removed. A different era, to be sure.

  • avatar
    DrivnEZ

    Very revealing that Chrysler is interested in bringing a corpse out of the grave.

    Perhaps this discloses an optimism about their own future.

  • avatar
    tx nyc

    These cases are anything but frivolous — dying of mesothelioma is one of the most painful ways to leave this earth, and the disease is caused by asbestos. Everyone should know that the court has not said that it will order an autopsy – rather, after the trial judge denied Chrysler and Honeywell’s request for such an order on the Monday after his death, they appealed and the appellate court sent the matter back to the trial judge for a full evidentiary hearing as to whether Chrysler and Honeywell are entitled to such an examination, mainly because the defendants’ delay meant the appellate court had little to no record/facts to examine. Given that the defendants waited until he was dead to file the motion with the trial court (they did nothing until last Monday, despite what Chrysler says to the public) the appellate court heard the arguments on Wednesday and issued the order staying the burial literally in the middle of the funeral services that day. It is important to realize that Chrysler did not act “timely” as it claims – it waited until after he died to ask the court for an order compelling an autposy that it knew he would have objected to. The defendants were told weeks ago that the family would object to an autopsy on religious, moral and personal grounds – they could have and should have filed their motions with the court then. Also, this is not “routine” as Chrysler claims publicly – no defendant has ever asked a court to order an autopsy in the history of New Jersey asbestos litigation. Interestingly, although the auto folks say their products were safe when they are in a courtroom, they tell their employees and their customers that precautions must be taken during brake repair due to the hazards of asbestos dust from grinding, beveling, sanding, removal, etc. http://hazard.com/msds/gn.cgi?query=ASBESTOS&start=50&whole=partial. No one disputes the fact the Mr. St. John died of mesothelioma, and there is no factual support for the argument that he was exposed to asbestos from anything other than automotive products.

  • avatar
    fallout11

    Too late for most to see this, but great post tx nyc.
    Chrysler’s own asbestos brake pads, according to Chysler’s MSDS sheet on them, states:

    “Routes of Entry:
    Inhalation:YES
    Skin:YES
    Ingestion:NO

    Reports of Carcinogenicity:
    NTP:YES
    IARC:YES
    OSHA:YES

    Health Hazards Acute and Chronic:
    ACUTE- MAY CAUSE EYE, SKIN, UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT IRRITATION. CHRONIC- MAY CAUSE ASBESTOS, MESOTHELIOMA & LUNG CANCER. SMOKING INCREASES THE RISK OF LUNG CANCER IN ASBESTOS WORKERS. EXPOSURE TO DUSTS OF ASBESTOS MAY CAUSE PNEUMOCONIOSIS.

    Explanation of Carcinogenicity:ASBESTOS IS REGULATED BY OSHA AS A CARCINOGEN.

    Effects of Overexposure:MAY CAUSE EYE, SKIN, UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT IRRITATION. PROLONGED AND/OR REPEATED EXPOSURE MAY CAUSE ASBESTOS, MESOTHELIOMA & LUNG CANCER. SMOKING INCREASES THE RISK OF LUNG CANCER IN ASBESTOS WORKERS. EXPOSURE TO DUSTS OF ASBESTOS MAY CAUSE PNEUMOCONIOSIS.”

    Quite damning, looks pretty open and shut.

  • avatar
    sunnkist1987

    Just so everyone knows, during the time he worked with breaks it was the 50′s and 60′s. Asbestos was not regulated until the late 70′s and therefore that is more than enough time for him to obtain mesothelioma caused my unregulated asbestos. He was my relative so believe me when I say the timing of the funeral was not rushed..in fact the time between his passing and the funeral service was average..not rushed. No, he did not smoke. And while working at an airline he worked in baggage..he was not working with asbestos there. About a year ago he did supply them with sufficient tissues samples. There is no reason for Chrylser to ask for more..It is hard enough to say goodbye to someone we love..imagine if you were trying to send your loved one to his/her final resting place and say goodbye only to find out that someone crashed their funeral, waited until you left, and then without telling you they would not allow them to be buried? It is not right. They do not need more tissue samples. My whole family is suffering because of chryslers disrespectful actions.


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