Chase Man’s unlikely heroics

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Since Chase Manhattan Bank discovered several years ago that its Wall Street headquarters were contaminated by asbestos allegedly supplied by a giant British conglomerate called T&N PLC, the megabank’s attorneys have decided to join forces with some unusual allies– anticorporate crusaders and plaintiffs’ lawyers–to seek justice.

“We are T&N’s worst nightmare,” says Chase executive Michael O’Connor. The bank’s lawyers have unearthed incriminating evidence in a bitter, ongoing legal fight, and they’re sharing these documents with the less well-financed attorneys here and in Britain. In England, one old T&N factory town has been ravaged by an epidemic of mesothelioma, a rare, asbestos-related cancer.

As late as the 1970s, T&N’s American subsidiary still sold a highly carcinogenic spray-on asbestos insulation used in buildings across the country. Internal T&N memoranda uncovered by Chase also show that after U.S. manufacturers had largely abandoned the business, T&N continued to sell its products without warning labels to customers in Third World countries. In addition, as late as 1987, the company’s officials were discussing how to suppress a study of health hazards faced by workers in its asbestos mines in Zimbabwe.

Until now, however, T&N has mostly been able to avoid being dragged into American courts, where substantial asbestos-related settlements have been awarded to victims suffering from mesothelioma and other diseases. But the documents uncovered by Chase attorneys may change all that. Furthermore, the bank’s willingness to cooperate with the personal-injury attorneys suing T&N seems to stem in part from genuine outrage. “Thousands of people in Britain are dying of mesothelioma– it’s an epidemic,” says O’Connor, who takes on tones of a Ralph Nader when discussing T&N. “They [T&N] had more knowledge of asbestos hazards than any American company.”

Of course, there are also bottom-line considerations at work. Chase is seeking $85 million to clean up its sixty-story Manhattan skyscraper and $100 million more in punitive damages. The trial is scheduled to begin next year.

T&N attorney Clinton Fisher maintains that Chase and its allies are distorting “a handful of bad-sounding documents” to make their case. “There’s more to the story than the documents they’ve selected,” Fisher promises.

Tom Thomas, a Los Angeles lawyer who won a $2.1 million judgment against T&N last August, reads those documents differently. “They’ve dodged the bullet in the past,” he says of T&N. “But they have some real bad skeletons in the closet.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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