Crown Cork and Seal
Crown Cork and Seal, which today is known as Crown Holdings, is an example of a company that did not actually make any products with asbestos, but which became liable for asbestos-related illnesses through an acquisition. Crown acquired Mundet Cork in the 1960s, a company with a small asbestos division. As a result, Crown Cork and Seal became liable when lawsuits over exposure to asbestos began to be filed in the 1980s and later.
Crown struggled for a while to meet responsibilities of Mundet’s asbestos product line. It had to face lawsuits and claims from people who were exposed because of Mundet products and got sick with lung cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma. Crown nearly filed for bankruptcy, but it managed to pay settlements and claims without needing to take this step.
Crown Cork and Seal Company History
The history of today’s Crown Holdings dates back to 1892 and to the invention of a new way to cap bottles. William Painter invented and patented the crown cork and started a new company to start making his innovative and simple new cap. The company was called Crown Cork and Seal Company and began its long history in Baltimore. The invention and patent of Painter and his Crown Cork and Seal Company revolutionized how beverages were packaged and made the process of bottling simpler, more efficient, and more cost effective.
Over the many intervening years between the original company and today’s Crown Holdings, the company developed many new packaging products and materials and acquired several companies. Today Crown makes packaging with paper, plastic, metals and other materials, and for products ranging from foods and beverages to industrial, beauty, and luxury items. It is one of the leading packaging companies in the world with over 100 plants around the world and more than 20,000 employees in over 40 countries.
Some of the important things that Crown Cork and Seal has accomplished over the years include developing and manufacturing gas mask canisters for U.S. troops in World War II, for which the company received a government citation. The company was also responsible for the growth in popularity of the pull-tab can and the development of aerosol cans. Crown survived asbestos litigation and settlements and is going strong today as Crown Holdings.
Crown Cork and Seal was liable for many lawsuits related to asbestos exposure and resulting illness in spite of the fact that the company never used asbestos in its products. The liability came from a minor acquisition Crown made in 1963. Crown bought Mundet, a company headquartered in North Bergen, New Jersey that made both cork bottle caps and construction materials, like insulation, that contained asbestos. Crown bought the company for the cork bottle caps and sold the asbestos part of the business just 93 days after acquiring it.
Although Crown only owned the asbestos division of Mundet for about three months, it has paid dearly for it: millions of dollars in settlement fees to cover thousands of lawsuits over Mundet’s products and the illnesses that exposure to the asbestos in them caused. The Mundet products that contained asbestos include pipe covering, block insulation, wool finishing cement, wool insulating cement and cork 85 percent magnesia asbestos insulation.
Crown never had any interest in construction materials but the heavy use of asbestos in this industry took its toll on the company for making the Mundet purchase. Asbestos was long used in construction products because it is a lightweight material that adds strength and durability to products and because it is insulating, inexpensive, and abundant.
Asbestos Exposure from Mundet Products
Cork Crown and Seal ended up facing liability for the asbestos exposure caused by Mundet products, which extended to thousands of affected people. The manufacturing plants run by Mundet employed people who worked directly with the asbestos. Even employees who did not handle the asbestos were put at risk for exposure to it. Just being around asbestos can be harmful because the fibers can come loose and contaminate the air. When a worker breathes in the microscopic fibers they get lodged in tissues and internal organs, causing damage over long periods of time.
In addition to all the people who worked directly for Mundet and risked being exposed to asbestos, there were thousands more workers who were employed by different companies but worked with Mundet products. Insulation installers, for instance, who used Mundet insulation, could have been exposed. Other types of construction workers, like cement contractors, demolition workers, painters, carpenters, and more, could also have been exposed to asbestos because of working with and around Mundet asbestos-containing products and materials.
Crown Cork and Seal ended up with liability for these many instances of exposure and illness because of court decisions made years after it acquired Mundet. Crown tried to argue that it did not have successor liability because it only bought the assets of the company related to the cork bottle caps. The law says a company has liability when it goes further than just buying assets, when it consolidates or merges with another company. Crown tried to argue that it did not go that far with Mundet, but a judge in Ohio disagreed and that opened the door for thousands of lawsuits targeted at Crown.
Since then Crown has settled cases and has paid out more than $700 million to Mundet victims through asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits. In one case in Louisiana, an iron fitter and ship fitter was awarded $12 million. He worked in a shipyard and his work included using asbestos cement pipes, some with pipe insulation made by Mundet. The jury found that Crown was 33 percent liable for the worker’s mesothelioma, and the company had to pay nearly $4 million of the settlement as a result.
Crown Holdings has emerged from its troubled past with Mundet. The company has fought to be successful in the face of all the settlements it has had to pay and in spite of those it may still have to pay in the future. It also fought to avoid bankruptcy and reorganization. Many companies with asbestos liabilities have had to seek bankruptcy protection and have been required to create and fund large asbestos trusts to compensate victims. Crown has been able to avoid all this while still paying victims.
If you can connect your asbestos exposure and resulting illness to Mundet products, Crown may still be considered liable. You may have a case to make against the company because of its liability over Mundet. To file a lawsuit and seek compensation, your best move is to work with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer. This professional can guide you and give you the best chance of making a successful case that recovers damages for you or your family.
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