Kentile Floors is a now-defunct flooring manufacturing company that was once a leading provider of a variety of flooring in the U.S. It was founded in the late 1800s in Brooklyn, and for decades had a large neon sign that was considered a landmark for generations of New Yorkers. That sign is now gone, as is the once-successful business, largely due to the use of asbestos.
Several types of Kentile flooring materials, especially vinyl and asphalt flooring tiles, were made with asbestos for many years. The use of this harmful material had serious consequences and a lot of people got sick many years after being exposed to it. Cases of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis mounted, and Kentile faced costly lawsuits. Unable to succeed after bankruptcy organization in the 1990s, Kentile went out of business.
Kentile Floors was a company founded in 1898 by Arthur Kennedy. The company was founded and remained in Brooklyn for 100 years before going out of business. The original products offered by the company were vinyl, rubber, and cork floor tiles. The company made a name for itself by offering a wide range of flooring types in terms of materials, colors, and patterns. Kentile was also innovative in offering flooring that could be installed by homeowners, removing the need for the extra cost of professional installation. In 1949 the company introduced its asphalt tiles, and these vaulted it into even higher levels of success.
As the decades continued after the 1949 introduction of asphalt tiles, Kentile continued to grow and be successful. They were well known for durable and resilient tiles, sold all across the country and made in Brooklyn. Unfortunately for the victims of exposure and the duration of the company, the durability of its famous flooring tiles was largely due to the use of asbestos. Some estimates state that Kentile flooring tiles contained as much as 25 percent asbestos. Because of the number and costs of asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits that piled up as people got sick and connected their illnesses to flooring and asbestos exposure, Kentile was forced to file for bankruptcy. It never recovered.
Asbestos in Kentile Products
Asbestos is a natural mineral that has a number of important and unique qualities. These qualities, and the fact that it was readily available and inexpensive, made asbestos a big part of a number of industries during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Floor tiling was no exception, and Kentile used a lot of asbestos in its products. Asbestos was highly prized because it is strong and durable, it is moldable to many shapes, it can resist fire and heat, it insulates effectively, and it is resistant to electricity and most chemical reactions.
In flooring, Kentile used asbestos in nearly all of its products, but especially in vinyl tiles and adhesives and its asphalt tiles. The asbestos helped make these tiles noticeably more durable, a quality the company was known for, but for which it paid a price. Added asbestos also made flooring more insulated and fireproof, which contributed to safety in the home and in commercial buildings.
Occupational Exposure to Kentile Asbestos Materials
A number of groups of people were put at risk of asbestos exposure because of Kentile flooring tiles. It begins with the company’s own workers. These are the workers in the factory who either had to handle the asbestos to make the flooring, or were in the area while the asbestos was being used in production. While asbestos used in manufacturing is generally non-friable, meaning it doesn’t crumble or come apart, there is always the possibility that it will be disturbed and that small particles will be released, contaminating the air around workers.
When those small particles, known as fibers, are inhaled or ingested, they can cause serious damage inside the body. Only some people exposed in this way will get sick, but those who do may end up with life-threatening illnesses, like mesothelioma cancer, lung cancer, and asbestosis. In addition to the Kentile workers, those in other industries that used or worked around the flooring were also at risk of exposure. Flooring installers, but also any other construction workers on the same job site were likely to have been exposed to fibers as the tiles were cut and installed.
Finally, homeowners were also at risk from Kentile asbestos flooring. Having asbestos in the home can be risky, because if it gets disturbed or decays in some way, the fibers can be released and cause exposure issues. Those at the most risk are the homeowners did their own renovations and tore out old asbestos floor tiles. Without training or knowing the risks the tiles posed, these homeowners could have breathed in asbestos dust.
Kentile faced thousands of lawsuits over this kind of asbestos exposure and resulting illnesses, and there are now no signs that these lawsuits will let up any time soon. By 1992 the company was facing thousands of lawsuits and high costs and turned to chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as a result. The company reorganized and emerged from bankruptcy in 1998, but failed to get back on its feet. The lawsuits kept coming in and are still being filed against the defunct flooring company.
Among the many lawsuits against Kentile was one filed by Beverly Fisher, whose husband Sidney died because of lung cancer. He worked for decades as a plumber and worked with and around a variety of construction products and materials, including Kentile flooring. The case was a mass tort, naming several companies, not just Kentile, that the Fishers believed were responsible for his cancer because of asbestos in their products. The case did not prove that Kentile was liable, but appeals are currently going forward.
In another case, Kentile was found to be responsible in part for a case of mesothelioma in a worker named William Harrell. He and his wife filed a lawsuit, again against several companies. The jury in a Los Angeles court awarded the plaintiffs $1.6 million and Kentile was found to be six percent liable. The company was required to pay six percent of the award.
Failed Asbestos Trust
Most companies that have faced asbestos-related lawsuits and filed for bankruptcy protection as a result, form an asbestos trust. These trusts are funded with a large initial investment and then are administered by a third party who validates and pays out claims for people who were impacted by the company’s asbestos use and became sick or lost a loved one. Kentile failed to establish such a trust for victims, and this was a likely reason that the company was unable to continue operating after bankruptcy reorganization.
Kentile is unusual in having filed for bankruptcy and successfully reorganizing, only to fail at starting an asbestos trust. This puts victims of exposure to asbestos from their flooring tiles in a difficult position. Instead of filing a claim with a trust to get compensation, these victims are forced to sue a company that no longer exists in the hope of getting money to compensate them for their illness, pain, and suffering. If you believe that Kentile flooring played a role in your illness or that of a spouse, you may have a worthwhile case, in spite of the challenges. Consult with a mesothelioma or asbestos lawyer to find out what you can do to get justice and the money you need for medical bills and other expenses.
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