GAF, the General Aniline and Film Corporation, is a roofing and construction materials company. The history of the company dates back to the early 1900s and formed as smaller companies came together, manufacturing chemicals and photography supplies. Eventually the company acquired the construction manufacturing business that would lead it into roofing and construction.
This acquisition would also lead GAF into decades of liability and legislation for the use of asbestos in roofing and other construction materials. Thousands of people brought asbestos lawsuits against the company and claimed that exposure through the products had caused them to get sick with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis. Eventually GAF was forced to file for bankruptcy and reorganize with a trust fund to help pay asbestos claims.
GAF Corporation was originally an American branch of German dye-making company called I.G. Dyes. In 1939 the American version of the company became GAF, General Aniline and Film. This name change came after the company acquired two others: General Aniline Works, a chemical company and Agfa-Ansco Corporation, a photography supply and film company.
GAF saw its first real troubles in the 1940s when the U.S. government seized the company because of World War II and German interests in it. Directors appointed by the government ran the company, but not well and it floundered for many years and consumers used other, more American film and chemical companies, like Kodak and DuPont.
In the 1960s GAF made a very important acquisition of Ruberoid Corporation, a company manufacturing roofing and other construction supplies. This would be important in two ways: it allowed GAF to find a new niche in which it would be successful, especially during the 1980s construction boom, but it also led to thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits because of taking on liability from Ruberoid.
Ruberoid made many of its construction materials with asbestos and when GAF bought the company it took on the liability for the exposure those products caused. GAF also took on liability from an asbestos mine in Virginia that Ruberoid owned. Although the asbestos mine shut down in the 1970s, GAF would face thousands of lawsuits over asbestos exposure caused by the mine and Ruberoid products, eventually forcing the company to file for bankruptcy and to reorganize.
Asbestos Use in Products
GAF used asbestos in a number of its products. Asbestos was desirable to use in construction materials because, in addition to its abundance and inexpensive cost, asbestos added strength and durability to materials, it insulated well, and could even resist electricity and chemical reactions. A wide variety of construction materials and products have been made with asbestos over the years, before federal regulations kicked in in the 1970s.
Some of the products that GAF was responsible for containing asbestos and that caused the company to later be liable for asbestos illnesses include insulation, insulating cement, roofing felt, pipe covering, rollboard, asphalt roofing tiles, vinyl floor tiles, wool felt, boiler jackets, asbestos fiber and paper, roofing paint, and brands of products including Watocell, Supercell, and Ruberoid.
GAF became liable for thousands of cases of people who were exposed to asbestos and later got sick. These people either inhaled or ingested—or likely both—asbestos fibers and those fibers got lodged in their tissues and organs, causing damage that led to illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other types of cancer.
The acquisition of Ruberoid led to much of GAF’s asbestos liability. That included an asbestos mine. Miners and anyone in the vicinity of the mine were put at risk of exposure. Ruberoid and GAF workers in facilities that manufactured the products that contained the asbestos from the mine were also put at serious risk. Working with or around asbestos is harmful because the fibers can break off and become airborne. Without protective equipment it is easy to inhale these tiny particles.
Also put at risk were any of the workers in other industries, but especially the construction industry, who worked with the asbestos-containing products. Roofers, insulators, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, boiler workers, and anyone working around these professionals who were handling, removing, installing, and even cutting into asbestos products were all put at risk of exposure and of getting sick.
Asbestos Litigation and Trust Fund
Because of all the construction materials that GAF made with asbestos, and because of the asbestos mine, the company eventually faced lawsuits from people who got sick and felt they were never warned of the dangers of their jobs or of working with the asbestos products. These workers and others were seeking compensation for medical bills and for pain and suffering as the result of being sick. Some claims came from spouses of workers who had died already from mesothelioma or lung cancer.
In spite of efforts to combat and settle claims, by 2000 there were over 70,000 lawsuits filed against GAF. By 2001 the company had spent over $1 billion settling the cases and was overwhelmed. GAF filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and reorganized, not emerging until 2009. Part of the reorganization was the creation of a trust fund to cover the current and future expected asbestos claims. The trust was created in 2009 and was funded with over $700 million. The trust is called the G-I Holdings Inc. Trust and it started accepting claims in 2010.
Asbestos Claims Facility
To help settle and defend against claims and lawsuits, GAF started the Asbestos Claims Facility in the 1980s along with other companies facing similar lawsuits. It was supposed to help reduce the costs of settling claims and to be an alternative to going through the courts. Other companies pulled out, though, over disagreements about how to handle and pay claims and it didn’t last longer than a few years. It was followed by the Center for Claims Resolution, led by GAF which believed strongly in the idea of using an alternative to courts to settle claims.
If you think that your asbestos-related illness, or the death of a spouse, is related to a product made by GAF or a GAF workplace, you can now file claims with the asbestos trust. The trust is active and set to compensate victims as they get diagnosed with illnesses related to asbestos. With an experienced lawyer, you can get through the process and claim the money that you are owed.
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