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Dana Corporation

The Dana Corporation is a manufacturer of automotive components that has been in business for over 100 years. The company got its start with the invention of the universal joint, or u-joint, by founder Clarence Spicer. Dana grew and expanded over the decades between then and the present, inventing and developing new products and acquiring other parts companies.

Dana has also faced many financial and legal troubles. As was the case with most companies that manufactured car parts, Dana used asbestos in many of its products over the course of many years. As a result, people were exposed to asbestos and got sick with mesothelioma and other illnesses. Dana never created an asbestos trust fund for victims, but it did reorganize under bankruptcy protection and settled many of the cases against it.

Company History

Today’s Dana Holding Corporation began in 1904 and for most of its history was known as the Dana Corporation. The company’s origins date to the invention of the universal joint by engineering student Clarence Spicer. Patented as the Spicer Universal Joint and later known as the u-joint, Spicer used this invention to start his car parts manufacturing company headquartered in Plainfield, New Jersey.

The original name of his company was the Spicer Universal Joint Manufacturing Company, but wanting to expand his reach, later changed the name to Spicer Manufacturing Company. The company produced much more than just the u-joint, and over the years made and sold products to car companies that included Olds Motor Works, Buick Motor Company, Kelly-Springfield, American Motor Car Company, and others.

By 1928, after years of struggling financially in New Jersey, Spicer moved to Toledo and set up headquarters for the newly named Dana Corporation in Maumee, Ohio. This came after lawyer Charles Dana invested in the company and became its president. The company really hit its stride post-World War II and continued to be successful for decades. In addition to expanding the number of products offered, Dana also bought up smaller auto parts companies to grow. These included companies like Victor Gasket Manufacturing Company and Perfect Circle Corporation.

After many years of success, Dana began to see financial troubles as lawsuits over asbestos exposure began to pile up. Victims claimed that the many parts the company made with asbestos caused their asbestos-related illnesses. By 2006 the company was forced to reorganize under Chapter 11 protection. It did not create an asbestos trust fund, as many companies in a similar situation did, but it did form a trust fund just for former employees affected by asbestos.

Asbestos Use

Dana was far from alone in using asbestos in automotive parts. This natural mineral was long prized for its unique properties, which included the ability to resist heat and fire. This property was especially useful for vehicles, which are at risk of overheating that can lead to part failure or fires. Car body components used asbestos to insulate and high-friction parts, like brakes and clutches, included asbestos to prevent overheating and fire.

At Dana, asbestos was used heavily in the manufacture of brake components, like linings, pads, drums, and disks. It was also used in gaskets and seals, engine components, u-joints, transmissions, drive shafts, axles, and many other parts. These components went into cars across the U.S., made by a number of manufacturers.

Asbestos Exposure

The use of asbestos in Dana’s parts led to exposure in thousands of people. Anyone who works with or even around asbestos is put at risk of exposure and illness. The fibers of this mineral can become detached and are tiny enough to float through the air, creating dust that can be inhaled or that settles on surfaces. When people inhale these fibers, they mostly stay in the body, lodging in tissues and causing the damage that can lead decades later to the diagnosis of mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.

Anyone who has been around asbestos-containing Dana car parts could have been at risk of exposure. Those at the greatest risk, however, were people who worked with those parts. This includes Dana employees who worked in their manufacturing facilities, actually making the parts, but also the many mechanics who took apart, repaired, and replaced Dana brakes and other parts that contained asbestos.

Dana’s Asbestos Litigation

Because of the asbestos exposure caused by Dana automotive parts the company has faced a number of asbestos lawsuits. By 2006 the company noted that it had at least 70,000 pending lawsuits related to asbestos exposure. Because of the lawsuits Dana entered bankruptcy reorganization in 2006 and emerged in 2008. It did not create an asbestos trust fund to compensate victims, a point contested by a victim advocate group called the Ad Hoc Committee of Asbestos Claimants.

This group claimed that Dana had not set aside enough funds to compensate current and future victims of asbestos exposure. Dana did set aside money, although it did not form a trust fund. It set aside $240 million after bankruptcy reorganization, citing its lawsuits as just three percent of its debts.

In one notable case against Dana and other manufacturers of asbestos products, a pipefitter sought damages for his mesothelioma. He died before the conclusion of the case, but it was continued by his family. They were awarded $5 million and Dana was found to be liable for a portion of the award because the man had worked with its asbestos-containing gaskets throughout his career.

Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association

Although Dana never created an asbestos trust fund for all claims against the company, it did settle with United Auto Workers and United Steel Workers to create a fund for employees of the company. Called the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA, this trust fund was set up to provide compensation for medical expenses to employees who were found to have been diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions. The fund includes $700 million in cash and $800 million in stock from Dana.

If you worked for Dana, you could be eligible for funds through VEBA. If you did not work for Dana Corporation but you believe that your asbestos illness is related to exposure through the company’s products you can still file a lawsuit. Dana expects to field claims and lawsuits for many more years as more people are diagnosed with medical conditions caused by asbestos. You can rely on an asbestos or mesothelioma lawyer to help you with the process and to ensure that you have the best possible chance of winning compensation for your illness or for the loss of a loved one.

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