Today’s Flexitallic Group is a global company with headquarters in both the U.S. and the UK. The company has a huge part of the market in supplying other industries with gaskets, particularly in the oil industry. Things have not always been smooth for Flexitallic, though. Over a period of many years, the company’s gaskets were made with asbestos to help reduce overheating from friction and to insulate.
The asbestos that Flexitallic used in its products played a role in exposing a number of workers, both Flexitallic workers and those who used their products in other industries, to this harmful mineral. Some of these people were later diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis and became very sick. Thousands of lawsuits from these victims overwhelmed Federal Mogul, the company that bought Flexitallic in the 1990s, resulting in bankruptcy and the creation of an asbestos trust fund.
Tracing the Flexitallic brand back to its ultimate origins goes back to the mid-1800s in England. From the very beginning the company made gaskets. In the early 1900s the company moved to the U.S. and made its headquarters in Camden, New Jersey. Flexitallic saw a lot of success operating from Camden, especially after it invented the first spiral-wound gasket for industrial applications. Until the 1940s no other company made a product like it. Flexitallic also developed and manufactured a variety of other types of gaskets and sold them throughout the country, and eventually around the world.
In 1963 the company was purchased by investors from Connecticut who incorporated it, calling it the Flexitallic Gasket Company, Inc. By 1970 Flexitallic had been bought by Turner & Newell, a British asbestos and manufacturing company. Turner & Newell moved the company back to the U.S., to Delaware and it was again renamed, this time Flexitallic, Inc. Once again the name changed, to Gasket Holdings, Inc., before the company was sold to Dan-Loc Bolt and Gasket. This is when the company got its current name, The Flexitallic Group. It also moved its location to the current headquarters in Houston, Texas.
Finally, in 1998, The Flexitallic Group was bought by Federal Mogul Corporation, a large manufacturing company based in Southfield, Michigan. Federal Mogul knew that it would be taking on asbestos liability because Flexitallic has used the mineral for so many years in its gaskets. The company was unable to handle the full load of lawsuits and settlements that came in, from Flexitallic and other acquisitions it had made over the years, and was eventually forced to reorganize under bankruptcy protection and form an asbestos trust fund.
Asbestos Use by Flexitallic
Flexitallic is known for its assortment and variety of industrial gaskets and sealing materials, especially for the spiral wound gasket it invented and manufactured for decades before any other company made a comparable product. Gaskets were often made with sheet packing that contained asbestos. Flexitallic was not alone in including asbestos in its gaskets and other seals, but it was a major manufacturer of these products, distributing them to a number of other companies and industrial workplaces.
Asbestos was desirable as a material in the pack sheeting used in gaskets because of a number of unique qualities. It can resist fire and high temperatures, for instance, so using asbestos in gaskets and seals helped to insulate and prevent heat from leaking. Asbestos also adds strength to materials, so it helped to make gaskets more durable and long-lasting and also resists erosion and chemical reactions. Finally, asbestos was inexpensive and readily available. Among its many products, the spiral wound gasket contained some of the highest levels of asbestos and caused a number of the liability cases for Flexitallic.
A number of people were put at risk of asbestos exposure because of Flexitallic gaskets. It started with the workers that made the gaskets in Flexitallic facilities, and even the people who worked there but did not handle the material directly. These workers were put at serious risk of inhaling the microscopic fibers that came loose from the asbestos. Those who did were put at risk of later developing the serious illnesses related to the damage asbestos fibers cause to internal organs: lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestos.
There were also the thousands of other workers in facilities throughout the world that used Flexitallic gaskets. Workers in oil refineries, for instance, installed gaskets, maintained them, and made repairs to them. Every time these workers handled the gaskets, they were put at risk of being exposed to the fibers. Workers in refineries, boiler workers, pipefitters, plumbers, and others could have been at risk because of Flexitallic gaskets.
Over many years of exposure to asbestos in Flexitallic gaskets, the company faced a number of lawsuits. Victims of exposure and illness claimed that Flexitallic was liable and should pay settlements. Initially it was Turner & Newell facing all the lawsuits, but when the company couldn’t cover them all, Federal Mogul stepped in, bought Flexitallic, and took on all the asbestos liabilities.
Federal Mogul was eventually also overwhelmed by the number of lawsuits and the extent of expected settlements. The company was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and to reorganize beginning in 2001. Federal Mogul crumbled under the weight of lawsuits from several acquired companies, but Flexitallic’s accounted for the greatest number, at over 150,000.
Asbestos Trust Fund
As part of the reorganization of the company under bankruptcy protection, Federal Mogul was required to create an asbestos trust fund. This would cover the settlements and compensation awards for ongoing claims as well as any future claims expected to come up over the next couple of decades. Federal Mogul is a huge company with many asbestos liabilities and its trust fund included several subfunds. The one that covered Flexitallic claims is called the Federal Mogul U.S. Asbestos Personal Injury Trust, Turner & Newell Subfund. It was established in 2007 and is still active.
Anyone who now can trace back asbestos exposure to Flexitallic gaskets can make a claim with the appropriate Federal Mogul trust fund. If you are sick because of asbestos and you feel certain that Flexitallic played a role in your illness, let an asbestos lawyer help you go through the process of making a claim and winning compensation.
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