An icon of American industry, Ford Motor Company is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Ford used asbestos in many of its automotive parts for decades, which led to exposure, illness, and resulting lawsuits. Mechanics who worked on Ford brakes and clutches had the highest risks of exposure and of developing devastating illnesses like mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Ford History and Asbestos
In 1903, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company with the help of several investors. It was one of the earliest automotive companies and the first to make mass-produced vehicles.
- Many early companies fizzled out, but Ford made a profit in its first year of business. A few years later, the company unveiled the Model T, the first affordable, mass-produced car in the country. The model T was a car for the people.
- In 1913, Ford opened its historic Highland Park Plant. Here the company used an innovative assembly line to produce its vehicles in less time. With the assembly line, the company could produce millions of cars through the 1920s and offer workers $5 a day in pay.
- Ford continued to thrive through World War II, contributing to the war effort by making most of the B-24 bombers used in the war. The company continued to flourish in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, the company became public.
- Like most other automotive manufacturers, Ford used asbestos in parts for decades. Brakes, clutches, and some other car components contained asbestos to protect against friction-generated heat and fire. Ford didn’t stop using asbestos until the early 1980s.
- The legendary Ford Mustang was introduced in 1964. By the late 1960s, Ford faced competition from foreign carmakers, especially during the oil crisis. At that time, consumers began demanding smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
- In the 1980s, Ford unveiled one of its most successful models of all time, the Taurus.
Despite rising gas prices and pressure from foreign carmakers, Ford has continued to be successful. When GM and Chrysler went bankrupt, Ford held on and did not receive any federal aid.
How Did Ford Use Asbestos?
Automobile manufacturing is one of many industries that commonly used asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that naturally insulates against heat and fire.
These properties made asbestos a desirable ingredient in parts that might overheat and fail from friction. Ford and its parts suppliers used asbestos in these components:
- Brake linings
- Brake pads
- Transmission components
- Engine components
- Hood liners
Who Was at Risk of Asbestos Exposure From Ford Vehicles?
The asbestos dust and fibers emitted by Ford car parts caused exposure in many people over several decades. When asbestos is disrupted, the fibers can be inhaled. For some, this exposure leads to the development of mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.
Mechanics Had Highest Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Mechanics working on Ford vehicles with asbestos components were put at risk of exposure to asbestos fibers. These workers may have handled, taken apart, replaced, and repaired clutches, brakes, and other parts that contained asbestos.
Friction in brakes and clutches can produce dust that could expose mechanics to dangerous asbestos fibers. Mechanics who worked on these particular parts had the biggest risk of long-term exposure and resulting illnesses.
Other Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Other workers were also at risk of asbestos exposure from Ford parts. Those who handled the asbestos parts, installed them, or worked in facilities that contained asbestos in other areas, were all put at risk for exposure.
Even long after asbestos use in auto parts, some Ford workers were put at risk of exposure. OSHA fined Ford in 2013 for asbestos violations at a Buffalo plant. A pipefitter was exposed to asbestos insulation. Workers in the area of asbestos in the plant were not given adequate protective gear.
Home Mechanics and Secondhand Exposure
Also at risk because of Ford is anyone who worked on their own vehicles, especially while making clutch or brake repairs. Home mechanics and vintage car enthusiasts today can still be exposed to asbestos from older or imported parts.
Secondhand exposure happened to many family members of mechanics and Ford employees. Before the dangers of asbestos were well known to workers, they often brought home asbestos fibers on their clothing. Some children or wives of workers got sick from this type of exposure.
OSHA Citations for Ford Asbestos Violations
In 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, cited Ford for eight serious violations of workplace safety regulations related to asbestos and respiratory health. The violations happened at the Buffalo, New York Lakeshore Road plant.
OSHA citations are made for serious violations, those that specifically endanger workers. In the Buffalo incident, OSHA cited Ford for allowing a pipefitter to work on an asbestos insulation line.
The company failed to provide respirators for workers handling asbestos. They also failed to have appropriate warning signs in areas where there was asbestos. In addition, they did not properly monitor the level of airborne asbestos fibers in the plant.
Asbestos Lawsuits against Ford
Most asbestos lawsuits Ford faced were the result of asbestos use in brakes and clutches. Repairing and replacing these components churns up dust. When the products being worked on contain asbestos, so does the dust the work produces.
$6.3 Million Awarded to U.S. Postal Service Mechanic
A mechanic named Nollie Wood filed one such lawsuit. Wood served as a mechanic for the U.S. Postal Service in the 1950s. In his line of work, Wood regularly worked on Ford brakes and clutches.
In 1990, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He died four months after his diagnosis. Wood’s wife continued the lawsuit, winning $6.3 million from a jury decision.
$6 Million for Manufacturing Worker with Mesothelioma
Linda Behling worked around Ford asbestos components during her career in manufacturing. She later developed mesothelioma and died in 2019. Her family sued Ford and other companies for damages. A jury awarded them $6 million.
$20 Million Jury Award for Former Mechanic
William Trokey worked as a mechanic from 1960 through 1968. He often worked with Ford drum brakes during this time of peak asbestos use. He later developed mesothelioma.
Trokey sued Ford and others. Some of the other companies were dismissed from the case, but a jury ordered Ford to pay Trokey and his wife $10 million each.
$4.6 Million for Secondhand Asbestos Exposure
Joyce Stockton developed mesothelioma through secondhand asbestos exposure. Her husband worked with Ford asbestos brakes and other products as a mechanic.
A jury in Tennessee agreed with the Stocktons that Joyce’s illness resulted from asbestos fibers on her husband’s clothing. It found Ford 71% liable and awarded the Stocktons $4.6 million.
$6.8 Million in Damages for Mechanic
In 2012, a California jury awarded Pat and Sharon Scott $6.8 million in damages. Pat worked as a mechanic for decades and also worked on his own Ford vehicles. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011.
$14 Million for Two Widows of Former Mechanics.
In 1996, Ford was ordered by a jury to pay $14 million to the widows of mechanics who died from mesothelioma. The mechanics worked with asbestos brakes made by Ford.
Ford tried to argue that it couldn’t rule out other sources of exposure, but the jury disagreed and assigned the company liability for the men’s deaths. This was an important early case that helped mechanics in later years recover damages from Ford and similar companies. 
Judge Allows Lawsuit Against Ford to Proceed
Judges have recently proven to be willing to side with mechanics against companies like Ford that downplay the risks of asbestos parts. In 2022, Ford tried to have a suit dismissed.
The plaintiff is Laura Walls, whose husband Robie worked as a mechanic with Ford asbestos parts for decades and died of mesothelioma. U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Biggs ruled that the mesothelioma case against Ford should go forward, giving Walls a chance to get justice and recover damages.
Ford’s Asbestos Cover Up
In the face of the asbestos lawsuits, Ford attempted to discredit claims that mechanics who worked on brakes were exposed to asbestos and at risk of developing cancer.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, Ford spent almost $40 million working with consulting firms and conducting studies to cast doubt on the connection between mesothelioma and brake work.
The results from the studies were questionable and controversial. Hundreds of scientists not associated with the Ford studies have confirmed that asbestos is strongly linked with mesothelioma.
What to Do if You Were Exposed to Ford Asbestos Parts
If you think your asbestos illness can be traced to Ford automotive parts or a Ford factory, you may be able to recover damages by filing a lawsuit. Unlike some companies, Ford did not create an asbestos trust fund; therefore, filing a lawsuit is the only way to seek compensation.
An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can get you started by reviewing your case for free. They can determine the companies responsible for your exposure and whether you should file a lawsuit or take other steps to recover damages. There is a statute of limitations on asbestos lawsuits, so don’t wait to talk to an asbestos attorney in your state.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate 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.