The National Automotive Parts Association, better known as NAPA, is an automotive parts supplier and retail outlet. As with many companies involved in the auto industry, NAPA made and distributed parts that contained asbestos. These put mechanics and other workers at risk of asbestos exposure, and in recent years NAPA has faced several asbestos lawsuits from former workers.
Today NAPA is a division of Genuine Parts Company and does work around the world. It is known as NAPA in the U.S., NAPA Canada in Canada, Repco in New Zealand and Australia, and Auto Todo in Mexico.
The company has fifty-eight distribution centers with nearly 475,000 parts kept as inventory at any given time. There are more than 6,000 NAPA stores just in the U.S. and 16,000 repair centers. The company sells to people working on their cars, parts stores, and corporations by providing parts and heavy equipment.
The history of the National Automotive Parts Association goes back to 1925. A group of business people who were already selling auto parts as individual retailers formed a cooperative in Detroit. They worked together to make the distribution of auto parts more efficient in response to the growing customer base for personal and commercial automobiles.
The first NAPA store opened in Atlanta in 1936. The company purchased the already operating parts store from an owner who believed there was no real future for automobiles. Although much larger today and owned by another company, NAPA still operates as a retailer’s cooperative.
Asbestos Use in Auto Parts
NAPA has gotten in trouble in the last couple of decades due to lawsuits claiming that NAPA parts were responsible, at least in part, for asbestos-related illnesses.
The automotive industry used asbestos for many years because of its resistance to high temperatures and friction. Asbestos is a natural mineral that is mined from the earth. It is very efficient at resisting heat, insulating against heat, resisting fire, and adding strength and durability to materials.
Two of the most common uses for asbestos in the automotive industry were brake and clutch linings. These parts have to withstand a lot of friction, which can lead to overheating. Overheating leads to failure, which can be very dangerous, especially with brakes.
Overheating and friction also, over time, lead to faster degradation of parts. To make parts safer and keep them durable longer, asbestos was added to the linings.
While clutches and brakes were the most likely auto parts to contain asbestos, there were others. Hood liners were often made with asbestos to insulate against engine heat, for instance.
Transmission parts, valves, gaskets, and seals were also often used with asbestos to create better seals, protect against heat, and make parts more durable and long-lasting. Certain parts sold by NAPA over the years are known to have contained asbestos.
Exposure to Asbestos from NAPA Parts
Anyone who handled or used NAPA parts with asbestos could have been exposed to asbestos and put at risk of later developing related illnesses, like mesothelioma. Those workers with the greatest risk were mechanics who worked with clutches and brakes.
Mechanics replaced brakes and clutches and their parts. The friction inside these components caused the asbestos to break down. When the mechanics removed them and opened them up for repairs, they were exposed to the harmful asbestos dust.
Inhaling those tiny fibers of asbestos causes serious illness in some people. The tiny fibers do not pass easily through the body, so they stick in tissues like little needles, especially in and around the lungs. People who were exposed this way were put at serious risk for developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.
Mechanics may also have carried asbestos fibers home on their clothing, putting family members at risk as well. Any other workers around this mechanic work or who handled the parts could have suffered asbestos exposure.
Because of the asbestos in some of their auto parts, NAPA faced lawsuits from people who were exposed and got sick. The company never faced so many lawsuits that it had to file for bankruptcy, but it has paid a lot of money in settlements.
NAPA was recently ordered in court to pay one of the largest asbestos-related settlements in the history of the state of Washington: $81.5 million.
The family of Jerry Coogan brought this case. He worked with heavy equipment that operated with NAPA parts while also maintaining his own collection of classic cars, often using NAPA parts. Coogan died of mesothelioma.
His family’s lawyers argued that Coogan had no idea he was being exposed to asbestos over the years and that companies like NAPA and Genuine continued to sell asbestos car parts into the 2000s, without adequate warnings. The jury awarded one of the largest amounts in Washington state history, deliberating for just five hours after a twelve-day trial.
Unlike some other companies that used asbestos, NAPA has not created an asbestos trust to compensate victims. If you think that their parts contributed to your illness and you want to seek compensation, you will need the assistance of an asbestos lawyer who can help you file a lawsuit against the company.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
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.