The Rutland Fire Clay Company has been manufacturing materials for furnaces, fireplaces, stoves, and general construction for nearly 130 years, and for many decades those products contained asbestos. It caused exposure in thousands of workers and many cases of asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma. Lawsuits forced Rutland into bankruptcy in 1999, but it reorganized and created an asbestos trust to process claims.
Today Rutland provides residential and commercial customers over 700 products related to stoves, chimneys, and fireplaces. The products are largely related to the maintenance and cleaning of soot and creosote.
Rutland also produces fire starters and products used to build stoves and fireplaces, including high-temperature cements and masonry.
Rutland Fire Clay Company was founded in Montpelier, Vermont, in 1883. The company’s main purpose was to provide consumers with products to prevent, reduce, or clean soot buildup in fireplaces and stoves. The first product reduced soot accumulation to help stoves run more efficiently.
After tackling soot, Rutland turned its energy to the problem of creosote. Creosote is a mineral that can build up in stoves and chimneys, increasing the risk of fire. In addition to soot and creosote products, Rutland expanded to offer a wide variety of stove maintenance products, like polishes and cleaners, as well as construction materials like cement, bricks, and joint compounds.
During World War II, Rutland experienced a boost in business when supply shortages caused more citizens to use wood-burning stoves for heating and cooking.
Unfortunately, many of Rutland’s products once contained asbestos. This ultimately led to thousands of lawsuits filed against the company for asbestos exposure and illness.
The expense of these lawsuits forced Rutland to seek bankruptcy protection. Rutland has now reorganized and recovered from its financial hardships, continuing to be successful without asbestos.
Asbestos Use in Rutland Products
For a period of time in the twentieth century, many industries used asbestos. Industries that used high temperatures, like Rutland, needed a material like asbestos.
Asbestos is a highly effective insulator, so it was regularly used as protection from fire and heat. Inexpensive and easy to use, asbestos is strong, flexible, and can be easily molded into almost any shape. Rutland was one of many companies that made products with asbestos.
Asbestos was a practical addition to Rutland products because their materials had to withstand high temperatures; furthermore, stoves and fireplaces worked more efficiently when they did not leak heat.
For a period of time, Rutland used asbestos in its furnace cement, roofing cement, joint cement – including wallboard cement and joint compound, and boiler coverings. Although asbestos seemed perfect for the job, it was harmful to human health.
While asbestos was used extensively in many industries, it was later discovered that this mineral could cause serious harm. Workers who handled the material or even worked near it could be exposed to dangerous asbestos fibers.
Rutland workers responsible for making materials that contained asbestos risked exposure. If asbestos fibers broke loose and became airborne, they could easily be inhaled. Once inhaled, these tiny fibers will damage tissues over time, which might lead to mesothelioma and other illnesses.
Also at risk of exposure were workers who installed Rutland asbestos products, particularly construction workers. Anyone who maintained or repaired stoves, chimneys, fireplaces, roofs, or walls containing Rutland asbestos products was also at risk.
Whether professionals or do-it-yourself homeowners, anyone who could have disrupted asbestos by drilling or breaking through the materials could be exposed to the harmful fibers of asbestos found within.
Over decades, thousands of people encountered asbestos in Rutland products. Some became sick as a result. While not everyone gets sick from asbestos exposure, those who do develop devastating terminal illnesses. Some of these people connected their conditions to Rutland and filed lawsuits for justice and compensation.
One such case was filed by a woman whose husband developed asbestosis, a lung scarring disease caused by asbestos exposure. Victor Scheidel worked as a contractor and was exposed to asbestos through materials he used on the job, including Rutland products.
Another plaintiff was Kenneth Cobb, a pipefitter who developed asbestosis. He named both Rutland and Owens Corning for his asbestos exposure through insulation, wallboard, and other materials. He won nearly $700,000 in his case.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust
These and similar lawsuits resulted in serious expenses for Rutland in the form of legal and settlement fees. The company paid victims of asbestos exposure when juries found it liable or willing to settle out of court.
Eventually, the expense overwhelmed Rutland, causing the company to file for bankruptcy in 1999. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2000.
As part of the bankruptcy agreement, Rutland established an asbestos trust for victims’ claims. The trust is limited, but it remains active. It is called the Rutland Fire Clay Asbestos Trust Agreement and is administered by the Asbestos Resolution Trust.
Rutland funded the trust with $8 million. Claims are limited to certain times of the year and by the amount of money in the fund.
Rutland remains liable for cases of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer related to its products. The trust may be limited, but funds are still available for those able to make a valid claim. It takes many decades for asbestos-related illnesses to develop, so there will likely be more claims in the future.
Speak with a lawyer who has asbestos experience before taking the next step. They can help you make your claim to ensure the best chance of successfully winning compensation.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.