As companies are learning these days, the decision whether to save or destroy records is proving to be a tricky prospect with costly implications
By Dave Lindorff|June 01, 2002 at 08:00 PM
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Owens Corning is in a distinct minority among large American corporations: It has in place a well-established records retention program. Actually, the title is a bit of a misnomer since, as with most corporate records retention programs, the main objective of this records management system is to eliminate records as quickly as financially and legally possible. At Owens Corning, in fact, there was a regular series of records burnings–shreddings being considered insufficiently permanent. Perhaps, however, even burning was not enough. Why? Because decades-old internal notes and memos from high-ranking company officers managed to survive and have proved pivotal in a decision by the leading maker of fiberglass insulation materials to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after it was hit with $3.1 billion worth of liability suits by 450,000 asbestos victims. The plaintiffs–some of whom have already settled with the company–claimed Owens Corning knowingly used a dangerous component in its fire-resistant products, and the internal memoranda, which showed that even during the 1940s and 1950s company executives knew that asbestos was an extremely hazardous material, provided the smoking gun needed to support the charge.
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