Rutland Fire Clay Company
The Rutland Fire Clay Company has been around for nearly 130 years, providing materials for furnaces, fireplaces, stoves, and other areas of construction. Today the company is still known as Rutland Fire Clay Company, but is also known as just Rutland Products. It still manufactures and sells products related to fireplaces and stoves, including flues, brush kits, fire starters, creosote removers, cements, bricks, and sealants, as well as many other similar products and accessories.
For many years Rutland used asbestos to make some of its products, including construction materials like cement and joint compound. This use of asbestos led to exposure in thousands of people and resulting lawsuits over mesothelioma and other illnesses. Lawsuits forced Rutland into bankruptcy in 1999, but it emerged reorganized and with an asbestos trust to process claims.
Rutland today is a company that provides the public, both residential and commercial and industrial customers, with over 700 products related to stoves, chimneys, and fireplaces. The products are largely related to maintenance and cleaning of soot and creosote, but the company is also known for its fire starters and products used to build stoves and fireplaces. These include high-temperature cements and masonry.
The history of the Rutland Fire Clay Company dates back to 1883 when it was founded in Montpelier, Vermont. The main purpose of the company from the very beginning was to provide consumers with products that would prevent, reduce, or clean soot buildup in fireplaces and stoves. The first product the company made and sold was a lining intended to be used in stoves that would make them more efficient by reduction how much soot could collect.
After tackling soot, Rutland turned its energy to the problem of creosote, a mineral that can build up in stoves and chimneys increasing the risk of fire. In addition to soot and creosote products, Rutland began to branch out and offered a wider variety of stove maintenance products, like polishes and cleaners, as well as construction materials like cement, bricks, and joint compounds. Rutland experienced a boost in business during World War II when supply shortages led to more people using wood-burning stoves for heating and cooking.
Unfortunately many of the products that Rutland made for a period of time contained asbestos. This ultimately led to thousands of lawsuit being brought against the company for asbestos exposure and illness. In turn, this led to bankruptcy, although Rutland was able to successfully reorganize quickly and continues to be a successful business today, without using asbestos.
Asbestos Use in Rutland Products
For a period of time in the twentieth century, asbestos was heavily used in several industries. Any industry that included high temperature environments was likely to have created and made products with this mineral. Asbestos is highly effective at insulating against heat and protecting people from fire and heat. It is also inexpensive and easy to use, with a flexibility and strength that allows it to be molded into any shape. Rutland was just one of many companies that made products with asbestos.
Rutland used asbestos because it made products that were to be used in stoves and fireplaces. These materials had to be able to withstand high temperatures without being damaged. Furthermore, stoves and fireplaces were more efficient if they did not leak heat. Asbestos did the job well until it was discovered how harmful it could be to human health. For a period of time in the 1900s Rutland used asbestos in its furnace cement, roofing cement, joint cement, including wallboard cement and joint compound, and boiler coverings.
While asbestos was used extensively in many industries and was effective for its intended purposes, it was later discovered that this mineral could cause serious harm. Workers who handled or worked near or with asbestos were likely to have been exposed to the tiny fibers that make up the mineral and to have inhaled them. Rutland workers who were responsible for making the materials that contained asbestos were among those who were at risk of being exposed. If they inhaled the exposed fibers, they may have suffered tissue damage that would ultimately lead to mesothelioma and other illnesses.
Also at risk of exposure were workers who installed Rutland asbestos products, which includes construction workers. Anyone who maintained or repaired stoves, chimneys, fireplaces, roofs, or walls that contained Rutland asbestos products were also at risk. These people, both professionals and homeowners, could have disrupted the asbestos by drilling or breaking through the materials, exposing the harmful fibers of asbestos found within.
Over decades, thousands of workers and homeowners were put at risk of getting sick from asbestos exposure because of being around or working with some of Rutland’s products. Not everyone gets sick from the exposure, but those who do develop devastating and terminal illnesses. Some of these people connected their illnesses to Rutland and filed lawsuits for justice and compensation.
One such case was brought by a woman whose husband developed asbestosis, a lung scarring disease that is caused by asbestos exposure. Victor Scheidel worked as a contractor and through his construction work was exposed to asbestos from the materials he used, including Rutland products. Another plaintiff was Kenneth Cobb, a pipefitter who developed asbestosis. He named both Rutland and Owens Corning for his exposure to asbestos through insulation, wallboard, and other materials. He won nearly $700,000 in his case.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust
These and similar lawsuits ended up costing Rutland a lot of money in settlement fees. The company had to pay these victims of asbestos exposure when juries found it to be liable or when it was willing to settle out of court. Eventually the costs of the cases became too much and Rutland filed for bankruptcy in 1999, emerging the next year in 2000, reorganized and ready to do business again.
As part of the bankruptcy agreement with the courts, Rutland had to establish an asbestos trust for victims’ claims. The trust was created in 2000 and is still active, although limited. It is called the Rutland Fire Clay Asbestos Trust Agreement and is administered by the Asbestos Resolution Trust. The trust was funded with $8 million and now claims are limited to certain times of the year and by the amount of money in the fund.
Rutland is still liable for cases of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer related to its products. The trust may be limited, but there are funds for people with valid claims. It takes many decades for these illnesses to develop, so there may be more claims coming against the company in the future. Speak with a lawyer with asbestos experience before you take the next step in making your claim so that you have the best chance of successfully winning compensation.
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