BorgWarner is one of the companies that used asbestos that managed to survive the wave of litigation that caused other companies to either sink completely or go through Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganization. An automotive parts manufacturer, BorgWarner is headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and for many years used asbestos in many of its products.
The use of asbestos in automotive components was common practice, especially in brakes and clutches. Unfortunately, this use affected the company’s workers and mechanics across the country. Working with these parts caused many people to be exposed to asbestos and to get sick with conditions like mesothelioma. As a result, BorgWarner has faced a number of lawsuits and has had to pay the high costs of settlements and damages in these cases.
BorgWarner’s long history dates all the way back to 1880 with the founding of the Morse Equalizing Spring Company. Another forerunner of today’s company was Warner Gear, which was founded in 1901. BorgWarner as it is today came into existence in 1928 with the merger of four separate companies: Borg & Beck, Marvel-Schebler, Mechanics Universal Joint, and Warner Gear.
BorgWarner, even from its earliest days, was an automotive parts company. It made car chains, transmission components, turbochargers, automatic and manual transmissions, and a specially-designed clutch that brought innovation and smoothness to gear shifting. The main business of BorgWarner today is the manufacture of drivetrain and engine parts, but it also includes several offshoots that make many other types of automotive components. The headquarters remain in Auburn Hills, in the heart of the Motor City area, but the company also has locations around the world.
Asbestos Use in Products
BorgWarner no longer uses asbestos in its products, but for several decades it was an important ingredient in many automotive parts. It was mostly the clutch facings and disc brake pads that used asbestos, but some of the transmission components also included asbestos. Asbestos was used commonly in these kinds of parts because of its ability to insulate against heat and prevent fire. Friction components contained asbestos to keep them from overheating. Brakes, for instance, can overheat quickly, which makes them less effective. Asbestos was used to keep the heat down and allow brakes to continue working.
Many of the lawsuits that BorgWarner has faced over the years included evidence that these car parts did have asbestos and that the fibers could come lose and cause harm. The brake pads made by BorgWarner were found to contain between seven and 25 percent asbestos by weight. Evidence from trials also showed that the company did not include any warnings on clutch or brake parts that they contained potentially harmful asbestos.
In 1972 BorgWarner conducted its own study of asbestos in its products. The study found that the manufacturing of clutches in its facilities generated higher levels of asbestos dust than was considered safe by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA had set limits for occupational asbestos exposure and how much could be in the air and BorgWarner found that it exceeded this limit, which meant it had put its workers at serious risk for the consequences of asbestos exposure. In particular, the company admitted that the clutch-facing inspector was probably exposed more than any other worker.
Workers at BorgWarner were clearly put at risk for asbestos exposure. The fibers that were found in the air at their manufacturing facilities would have been inhaled by workers. They would then have lodged in tissues, causing the damage that in some workers led to asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. These illnesses that asbestos can cause are progressive and nearly always fatal.
It wasn’t just the BorgWarner employees that were harmed by asbestos in their car parts. Mechanics who worked with these parts and even car owners who worked on their own vehicles were also put at risk of asbestos exposure. BorgWarner sold its asbestos-laden clutches and brakes to General Motors from the 1960s through the 1980s. Mechanics who worked on the cars could have breathed in asbestos fibers every time they took apart the brakes or clutches on cars. They also would have ground the disc brake pads which would have created a large amount of asbestos dust.
Litigation against BorgWarner
Because of the exposure and health risks that BorgWarner caused with its asbestos components, the company has faced a lot of asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits. It takes many years after the first exposure for asbestos illnesses to develop and be diagnosed, so lawsuits began to accumulate in greater numbers in the 1990s and 2000s. By 2009 BorgWarner had been named in over 20,000 asbestos cases, including about $50 million in liabilities.
One case against BorgWarner involved a former General Motors employee. The man worked at a warehouse for parts for the auto company. He worked there for several summers in a row as a young man and decades later was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He died from his illness at the age of 50. He claimed that he was exposed to asbestos through contact with BorgWarner parts, but also through asbestos fibers his father brought home on his clothing after also working in the General Motors parts warehouse.
The man’s wife sued General Motors, BorgWarner and other companies for wrongful death. BorgWarner argued that its parts had not been in that particular warehouse at the time that the man worked in it. However, the jury was unable to see proof of this because BorgWarner had destroyed its records regarding those parts. Ultimately the jury found that all companies involved were liable and had to pay over $30 million in damages.
Unlike many other asbestos companies, BorgWarner never failed or reorganized. The company still exists today, and although it has faced many lawsuits it has never created an asbestos trust fund. Today it designs and manufactures environmentally-friendly automotive parts that aim to improve fuel efficiency in vehicles. The company is profitable and successful.
If you were exposed to asbestos and got sick, and if you believe that BorgWarner may have played a role in our exposure, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the company. A lawyer experienced in asbestos lawsuits can help you file and can be your advocate and guide, giving you the best chance of succeeding in getting damages and compensation.
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