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Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company is an icon of American industry and the Ford brand one of the most recognizable in the world. Ford has been in business for more than a century and the company has both succeeded and faced a number of challenges. In the last several decades one of those challenges has been facing lawsuits brought by people who were exposed to asbestos through Ford automobile parts and who got sick as a result with such devastating illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Although Ford avoided the bankruptcy and highly-criticized federal bailouts that General Motors and Chrysler could not, the company has still struggled in the last thirty years. Part of that struggle has been the repercussions of using asbestos in brakes, clutches, and other parts. More lawsuits are expected in the future as more people are diagnosed with asbestos related conditions.

Company History

The Ford Motor Company was founded by Henry Ford, along with several investors, in 1903 in Dearborn, Michigan. At this time, automobiles were fairly new and not everyone was convinced they would catch on. Many companies would start up and fizzle out, but Ford got off to a great start and was already profitable in its first year in business. Just a few years later the company unveiled the Model T, the first affordable, mass-produced car in the country, a car for the people.

Ford opened up its historic Highland Park Plant in 1913 where the company used an innovative assembly line to churn out Model Ts and other cars. Ford was able to produce over 200,000 vehicles a year at this time, far more than its competitors. By the 1920s, Ford was producing more than a million vehicles per year and had expanded operations to other countries. Ford had also started buying up other car companies during this time, including the Lincoln Motor Company.

The company continued to be successful through World War II, when it contributed by making most of the B-24 planes used in the war. It also succeeded through the 1950s and 1960s, becoming a public company in 1956 and introducing the now legendary Mustang in 1964. By the late 1960s and 1970s foreign car makers were making it difficult for Ford to convince the American public to buy their cars, especially during the oil crisis when consumers demanded smaller, more fuel efficient cars.

In the 1980s Ford presented one of its most successful models of all time, the Taurus. In spite of pressure from foreign car makers and gas prices, Ford has continued to be mostly successful. When GM and Chrysler went bankrupt, Ford held on and did not take aid from the federal government. Although it avoided bankruptcy and the bailout, Ford still struggled and had to restructure and face numerous lawsuits over asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Use

The automotive industry is one of many industries that used a lot of asbestos in products. Asbestos is naturally good and insulating against heat and protecting against fire, which made it a desirable ingredient in parts that are prone to overheating from friction. Ford used asbestos in components of their clutches and brakes for many years for this reason.

Asbestos was also used in other products, like gaskets, for heat insulation and also for adding durability and strength. It was used in transmission and engine components, and sometime in body components for adding strength and insulation.

Asbestos Exposure

Mechanics working on Ford vehicles that were made with asbestos components are some of the people who were most put at risk of being exposed to asbestos fibers. These workers may have handled, taken apart, replaced, and repaired the clutches, brakes and other auto parts that contained asbestos. The friction that occurs in brakes and clutches in particular can produce a lot of dust that exposes mechanics to asbestos fibers. These inhaled fibers can lodge in the tissues of the body causing damage that in some people will lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.

It was not just mechanics, though, who were exposed to asbestos through Ford’s use of the mineral. Workers for Ford, as illustrated by the OSHA violations cited at the Buffalo plant, were put at risk too. Those that handled the asbestos parts, installed them in vehicles, or worked in the facilities that contained asbestos in other roles, were all put at risk for exposure. Consumers were also put at risk, especially those who made repairs on their cars, taking apart and replacing components like brakes and clutches.

OSHA Citations for Asbestos Violations

In addition to the parts that Ford manufactured and used containing asbestos, the company got in trouble in 2013. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a citation when it discovered that Ford had committed eight or more serious violations of workplace safety regulations related to respiratory health and asbestos. The violations happened at the Buffalo, New York Lakeshore Road plant.

OSHA citations are made for what it terms serious violations, those that put the safety and even the lives of workers at risk. In the Buffalo incident Ford was cited for allowing a pipefitter to work on a line that contained asbestos insulation, failing to provide respirators for workers handling asbestos, not having the appropriate warning signs in areas where there was asbestos, and failing to monitor the level of airborne asbestos fibers in the plant.

Asbestos Lawsuits against Ford

Most of the asbestos lawsuits that Ford faced were the result of asbestos use in brakes and clutches. The work that is done in repairing and replacing these components, churns up a lot of dust, and when the products contain asbestos, so does the dust. One example of a lawsuit over exposure was filed by a mechanic named Nollie Wood. He worked as a mechanic for the U.S. Postal Service in Baltimore in the 1950s. He did a lot of work on the brakes and clutches, which were Ford parts. In 1990 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and he died four months later. His wife continued the lawsuit and won $6.3 million from a jury decision.

If you think that your asbestos illness could be traced back to Ford automotive parts or from working in a Ford factory, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover damages. Unlike some other companies, Ford never had to create an asbestos trust fund, so filing a lawsuit is the only way to get compensation. An experienced lawyer can help you get started and take you through the process.

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