Protect businesses from unwarranted legal action

| Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001

This one comes from the "you have to hear this to believe it" file.

Businesses are in danger of being sued for supposed vices that have nothing to do with them.

An example - as ridiculous as it sounds, Crown Cork and Seal (formerly Anchor Hocking Corp.), one of Connellsville area's largest employers, is exposed to potential liability over asbestos-related suits against a company it owned for only 93 days almost four decades ago.

Yet that appears to be the case, and is the focus of proposed state legislation that would protect companies like Crown by limiting their liability in asbestos-related claims.

That Crown could be held liable in such actions is amazing in its own right.

The South Connellsville company, then Anchor Hocking, purchased Mundet Cork in 1963 and owned the company for 93 days before selling it. In that three-month period, Mundet never manufactured, sold or installed an asbestos-containing product. Moreover, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) didn't establish its first regulations covering asbestos until 1971, eight years later.

Yet today, as asbestos-related lawsuits, many of them scams, become more prevalent, companies like Crown face the possibility of being named as defendants in those suits.

Mundet Cork, based in Texas, is currently facing asbestos litigation. Under current laws, Crown has unlimited liability in the Mundet case and if Crown were to become embroiled in that suit, it could put the South Connellsville plant, and its 167 active jobs, in jeopardy.

Fortunately, the state legislature is considering legislation to limit liability in asbestos-related lawsuits. The legislation is designed specifically to protect Crown, according to U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania who toured the plant recently. He spoke of the need for the state to approve the legislation, for Crown's sake.

"The bottom line is, if they don't pass this legislation, Crown Cork probably goes out of business," Santorum said.

While we can't say for sure that would be the case, the simple fact that Crown could be held liable for the subsequent actions of a company it owned for a mere 93 days in 1963 is ridiculous.

We would hope that a judge or jury would recognize that, but when 167 jobs in a depressed area such as Connellsville are at stake, nothing can be taken for granted. We would urge state lawmakers to take action to protect Crown, and any other businesses in the state, from unwarranted legal action.

If this Connellsville company goes out of business because of legal action of this sort, precedent could be set. That would be bad news for areas like the Mid-Mon Valley.

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