BorgWarner Inc. and Asbestos
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BorgWarner is headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and manufactures automotive parts. Many of BorgWarner’s products were made with asbestos in the past. Many workers suffered asbestos exposure that led to mesothelioma and other illnesses leading to lawsuits against the company.
BorgWarner History and Asbestos Use
BorgWarner’s history dates to 1880 with the founding of the Morse Equalizing Spring Company. Another forerunner of the modern company was Warner Gear, founded in 1901.
BorgWarner came into being in 1928 with the merger of four separate companies: Borg & Beck, Marvel-Schebler, Mechanics Universal Joint, and Warner Gear.
From its earliest days, BorgWarner manufactured automotive parts. The company made car chains, transmission components, turbochargers, and automatic and manual transmissions.
BorgWarner also manufactured a specially designed clutch that was innovative in its design, making gear shifting smoother.
Beginning in the early 1970s, BorgWarner made brake pads and clutches with asbestos. It continued using asbestos in these parts through the 1980s.
Today, the main business of BorgWarner is the manufacture of drivetrain and engine parts. The company also includes several offshoots that make other automotive components. Headquarters remain in Auburn Hills, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, but the company also has locations around the world.
Unlike many other asbestos companies, BorgWarner never failed nor reorganized and therefore has no asbestos trust fund. The company still exists, designing and manufacturing environmentally-friendly automotive parts to improve fuel efficiency.
Asbestos in BorgWarner Products
BorgWarner no longer uses asbestos in its products, but at one time it played an important role in some automotive parts:
- Clutch facings
- Disc brake pads
- Certain transmission components
The company used asbestos because of its ability to insulate against heat and prevent fire. Friction components, including brakes and brake pads, contained asbestos to prevent overheating.
Many of the lawsuits BorgWarner faced included evidence these car parts contained asbestos, and that fibers could come loose, potentially causing harm. Brake pads made by BorgWarner contained between 7% and 25% asbestos by weight.
Evidence from trials also showed the company did not include warnings on clutch or brake parts to indicate they contained potentially harmful asbestos.
Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure
In 1972, BorgWarner conducted its own study of asbestos in its products. The study found the manufacturing of clutches 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. BorgWarner found it exceeded this limit.
This meant the company had put its workers at serious risk for asbestos exposure. In particular, the company admitted the clutch-facing inspector probably experienced more exposure than any other worker.
BorgWarner clearly put workers at risk for asbestos exposure. Workers could have inhaled airborne asbestos fibers in manufacturing facilities. Those fibers would then lodge in body tissue, causing damage that could lead to asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.
It wasn’t just BorgWarner employees who were harmed by asbestos in their car parts. Mechanics and car owners who worked with these parts also risked asbestos exposure. BorgWarner sold its asbestos-laden clutches and brakes to General Motors from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Mechanics working on these cars could have been exposed to asbestos fibers every time they took apart brakes or clutches. Also, mechanics would have ground the disc brake pads, creating large amounts of asbestos dust.
Mechanics were at the highest risk of exposure from BorgWarner parts, but anyone working in the area could also have been exposed.
Asbestos Lawsuits Against BorgWarner
BorgWarner faced thousands of asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits because of past exposure through its asbestos components. Asbestos-related illnesses may not develop for years after exposure, so many lawsuits came decades later.
For this reason, lawsuits began to rise 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. This man worked at a parts warehouse for the auto company. He worked several summers in a row as a young man.
Decades later, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. At the age of fifty, he died from his illness. He was exposed to asbestos through contact with BorgWarner parts, but also through asbestos fibers brought home by his father who also worked in the General Motors parts warehouse.
The man’s wife sued General Motors, BorgWarner, and other companies for wrongful death. BorgWarner argued its parts had not been in that particular warehouse when the man worked there. However, because BorgWarner had destroyed records, the jury could not see proof. Ultimately the jury found all companies involved liable, requiring they pay over $30 million in damages.
Divestiture of Morse TEC
In 2019, BorgWarner announced it would divest a subsidiary, Morse TEC to an Enstar subsidiary. Morse TEC held BorgWarner’s asbestos liabilities. Along with the divestiture, BorgWarner contributed $172 million.
BorgWarner made the move to settle its asbestos liabilities for good. Enstar, an insurance company specializing in asbestos liabilities, would deal with BorgWarner’s claims.
SEC Fines BorgWarner over Asbestos Liabilities
In 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged BorgWarner for misstating financial statements. The company left out more than $700 million in asbestos liabilities in its reports from 2012 to 2016.
The company claimed it could not estimate its liabilities, which the SEC found to be false. The misstatement is a violation of federal securities laws. The SEC fined BorgWarner $950,000.
If You Were Exposed to Asbestos in BorgWarner Products
If you were exposed to asbestos and believe BorgWarner played a role in our exposure, you may be able to make a claim for compensation. A mesothelioma lawyer experienced in asbestos lawsuits can help you file. They can be your advocate and guide, giving you the best chance of receiving damages and compensation.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.