National Automotive Parts Association
The National Automotive Parts Association, better known to many as NAPA, is a well-known automotive parts supplier and retail outlet. Founded in the 1920s, the company has been providing equipment and replacement parts for a variety of vehicle types for decades. Customers include individuals, industrial workplaces, parts stores, and others. NAPA today has thousands of auto parts stores, affiliated repair shops, and many distribution centers to house the hundreds of thousands of parts.
As with many companies involved in the auto industry, NAPA made and distributed parts that contained asbestos. Asbestos was used in brakes, clutches, and many other automotive parts to help protect against friction and overheating. Mechanics were the workers most put at risk of being harmed by asbestos in these parts, and in recent years NAPA has faced a number of asbestos lawsuits from these former workers.
Today NAPA is a division of Genuine Parts Company, but is also an international automotive parts company. It is known as NAPA in the U.S., NAPA Canada in Canada, Repco in New Zealand and Australia, and as Auto Todo in Mexico. The company currently has more than 58 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 currently serves individuals working on their own cars, parts stores, and corporations by providing parts and heavy equipment.
The history of the National Automotive Parts Association goes back to its founding members in 1925. A group of business people who were already selling auto parts as individual retailers decided to come together to form a cooperative in Detroit. They would work together to make the distribution of auto parts more efficient and in response to the growing customer base for personal and commercial automobiles. The first NAPA store opened up 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 as people have come forward with lawsuits claiming that NAPA parts were responsible, at least in part, for their asbestos-related illnesses. Asbestos was used consistently in the automotive industry for many years because of the unique qualities that made it effective for parts that needed to withstand 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 to which it is added.
Two of the most common uses for asbestos in the automotive industry have been in brake and clutch linings. These are parts that have to withstand a lot of friction, which can in turn 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 too. Hood liners were often made with asbestos to insulate against the heat of the engine, for instance. Transmission parts, valves, gaskets, and seals were all also often used with asbestos to create better seals and to protect against heat and to 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 who were put at the greatest risk were mechanics who worked with clutches and brakes. These mechanics replaced brakes and clutches and their parts. The friction that occurred 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 little fibers of asbestos causes serious illness in some people. The tiny fibers do not pass easily through the body, so like little needles they stick in tissues, 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, which could put family members at risk as well. Any other workers who were around this kind of mechanic work or who handled the parts at all could have been exposed to asbestos.
Because of the asbestos that was 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.
This case was brought by the family of Jerry Coogan, a man who worked with heavy equipment that operated with NAPA parts and who worked on his own collection of classic cars, often using NAPA parts. Coogan developed and died of mesothelioma. The 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 12-day trial.
Unlike some other companies that used asbestos, NAPA has not created an asbestos trust to compensate victims. If you think that there 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.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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