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The history of the Chrysler brand goes back to the 1920s and the heyday of the automobile industry in Detroit. Since then the company has gone through many changes, expanding its product lineup, working with different suppliers, merging with other car manufacturers, and even going through bankruptcy and reorganization. Chrysler has also had to deal with lawsuits brought by people who were impacted by asbestos exposure and mesothelioma through Chrysler cars and parts.

These plaintiffs have one several cases against Chrysler, but the company was never forced into the position of needing to create an asbestos trust to manage them. Through strategic partnerships and an infamous handout from the federal government, Chrysler has emerged in the modern economy as a successful carmaker with a colorful past.

Company History

Walter P. Chrysler founded the original Chrysler Corporation in 1925 to manufacture automobiles. The first car the company produced was the Chrysler 6, an innovative new car for being run by a six-cylinder engine and with hydraulic brakes on all four wheels. Chrysler brought out the Plymouth line within a few years, offering American buyers inexpensive options with smaller engines.

Chrysler would continue to innovate automotive manufacturing by designing new models with updated components. In the 1930s the company used oil filters that could be replaced and installed one-piece windshields in their cars. The company also expanded its lineup of products by acquiring other car makers, including the Dodge Brothers in the 1930s. During World War II Chrysler joined the war effort by manufacturing military vehicles and working on the development of technology like radar antennas.

Chrysler first hit a real troubled time during the 1970s during the oil crisis. Always known for larger cars, Chrysler now faced a problem as Americans needed smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. The company struggled to compete with Ford, General Motors, and Japanese automakers, even with its smaller cars like the Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart.

The company continued to struggle throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s and received its first aid from the federal government in 1980 in the form of a $1.5 billion loan. In 1998 Chrysler partnered with Daimler-Benz and became Daimler-Chrysler. Daimler bailed on the deal as the company continued to see poor sales. Cerberus Capital Management bought a majority stake in Chrysler in 2007, but by 2009 the Chrysler had to file for bankruptcy and got another handout from the government in the form of $6 billion and the promise of partnering with Italian car maker Fiat.

While the partnership is still going strong, Chrysler still faces financial woes from past and ongoing asbestos lawsuits. The company manufactured, bought, used, and sold car components, like clutches, that contained asbestos over many years. The lawsuits have not brought the company down or necessitated a trust fund creation, but they have cost the company money and likely will continue to do so in the future.

Asbestos Use

The automotive industry has long been plagued by the consequences of asbestos use. Like many other types of companies, car companies found asbestos useful because it resists heat and fire so well. It can be used in parts that need to withstand a lot of friction. The use of asbestos in these parts helped to prevent overheating and the resulting consequences, such as failed parts or fire.

While most car and car part manufacturers today do not use asbestos in new components, they did for many decades. These parts included hood liners, gaskets, heat seals, engine components, and some body parts made of fiberglass or plastic. The most consistent use of asbestos in cars, though, was in clutches and brakes. Brakes need to withstand a lot of friction without overheating, so asbestos was used heavily in disks, shoes, pads, and rotors. Clutches included asbestos for the same reason.

Chrysler used asbestos in most of these components to some degree over the years, but mostly in clutches and brakes. From the 1960s to 1980s, for instance, Chrysler made its own drum brake components in a facility in Trenton, Michigan that used asbestos. The company also used asbestos-containing components made by other companies including Bendix Corporation, Abex Corporation, BorgWarner, Johns Manville, Raybestos-Manhattan, and others.

Asbestos Exposure

Because of the extensive use of asbestos in car components like brakes and clutches, a lot of people were put at risk of being exposed to it and of getting sick as a result. People who were exposed to asbestos may have inhaled the fibers, which over time can cause illnesses including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

Workers who manufactured car parts with asbestos were most likely exposed to the harmful fibers in the workplace, but the risks do not end with them. Factory workers that assembled cars with these parts were also put at risk. Perhaps the riskiest job relating to asbestos exposure and cars is repair work. Mechanics who actually take apart, fix, and replace clutches and brakes are at serious risk of inhaling the asbestos fibers in these parts. Mechanics in the past were at risk, but they still are today if they are working with older cars.

Asbestos Lawsuits against Chrysler

Because of the use of asbestos in many of its cars’ parts, Chrysler has faced numerous lawsuits over the years. These were brought by people who could trace their asbestos-related illnesses to exposure to components found in Chrysler vehicles. One example of a lawsuit against the company that won compensation for the victim occurred after a man who stripped brakes and replace old linings for nearly 20 years developed mesothelioma. Several companies were included in the lawsuit and the jury found that Chrysler was liable for ten percent of the $25 million award given to the victim. The jury found Chrysler failed to warn workers and others of the risks of asbestos in their brakes.

Another lawsuit was filed against Chrysler in 2009. The victim worked as a mechanic in the 1950s and 1960s and eventually developed and died from mesothelioma. He died before the trial began and Chrysler was heavily criticized for stopping the man’s burial and insisting on an autopsy. A judge denied Chrysler that autopsy and found in favor of the family for immediate burial. Chrysler pushed the issue and delayed burial another few weeks.

Chrysler has clearly not always acted ethically or morally with respect to the use of asbestos in its products and vehicles or in the resulting lawsuits. If you believe that your asbestos exposure and resulting illness was at least in part caused by Chrysler cars or components, you may want to file a lawsuit. A mesothelioma lawyer can help you make your case and get the justice you deserve.

Page edited by 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.

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