Italy’s Supreme Court Annuls Acquittal of Asbestos Defendants 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Late on June 11, 2024, Italy’s Supreme Court (the Court of Cassation) announced that it had overturned a decision by the Palermo Court of Appeal which had nullified a first-instance guilty verdict for the asbestos deaths of 39 shipyard workers and the serious injuries sustained by 11 other employees.1 The lower court had ruled that the negligence of executives Giuseppe Cortesi and Antonio Cipponeri had resulted in dangerous workplace asbestos exposures at the Fincantieri S.p.A. shipyard in Palermo in the 1980s.2 Amongst the asbestos-injured and deceased were maintenance technicians, laborers, welders, mechanical adjusters and engine fitters who had contracted malignant pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis after years of service to Fincantieri.


Fincantieri S.p.A. Shipyard in Palermo, Italy. Date unknown.

Overturning the convictions of the defendants, the Court of Appeal determined that exposure to asbestos at the company’s shipyard in Palermo had ceased in the early 1980s despite first-hand evidence provided by multiple witnesses who testified that asbestos was still being used at the shipyard well into the mid-1990s. The verbal evidence presented to the Supreme Court was corroborated by a legal precedent set in 2015 when the Supreme Court recognized that “copious amounts of asbestos” had been used at Fincantieri's Palermo plant into the 1990s. In that case, company executives were convicted of causing serious injuries to 19 workers as well as the demise of 43 others.

Commenting on the news of the judicial U-turn, trade unionist Francesco Foti – the General Secretary of the Italian Federation of Metalworkers-General Confederation of Labour for Palermo and Sicily – said:

“The truth has been re-established. Once again, justice has been done, but many other workers continue to die from breathing asbestos in those years and their families are waiting for answers.” 3

Expanding on Foti’s words, victims’ lawyer Fabio Lanfranca said that the shipyard workers died not from:

“an unforeseeable unfortunate event but because they were forced for decades by their employer to routinely work with asbestos without any protection and without having received any information on the danger of the material that was supplied to them and that killed them slowly.”4

Categorizing the decision of the Appeal Court as “erroneous,” the Supreme Court ordered that a new hearing be held.

June 17, 2024


1 La Cassazione Annulla L’Assoluzione dei Dirigenti Fincantieri [The Supreme Court Annuls the Acquittal of the Fincantieri Executives]. Juny 13, 2024.

2 Fincantieri S.p.A. is an Italian shipbuilding company based in Trieste, Italy. It is the largest shipbuilder in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.

3 Morti per amianto, Cassazione annulla con rinvio assoluzione dirigenti Fincantieri, Foti e Lanfranca:
“Sentenza che dà giustizia” [Deaths from asbestos, Court of Cassation annuls [pending a retrial] the acquittal of Fincantieri; Foti and Lanfranca executives: “Ruling that gives justice”].

4 Amianto, Cassazione annulla l'assoluzione dei dirigenti di Fincantieri [Asbestos, Court of Cassation annuls the acquittal of Fincantieri's executives].



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