Shook & Fletcher
Founded in 1901 and having survived a 2002 bankruptcy, Shook & Fletcher is a modern insulation manufacturing company and distributor. The company also specializes in custom fabrication of thermal insulation products. Although the company is successful today, Shook & Fletcher has a long history of using asbestos in its products and paying the price in lawsuits and settlements as a result.
Insulation companies often used asbestos, including Shook & Fletcher, but once it was determined that this could cause people to be exposed to harmful asbestos fibers, those afflicted began filing lawsuits. Shook & Fletcher faced thousands of lawsuits over mesothelioma and lung cancer and ultimately had to file bankruptcy and establish an asbestos trust for victims’ claims in 2002.
About Shook & Fletcher
Today the company is more than 100 years old and is a leading distributor of a wide range of insulation products in the southeastern U.S. With headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, Shook & Fletcher also has distribution centers throughout the region, in Atlanta and Decatur, Georgia, Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee, and Mobile, Alabama. The company fabricates custom insulation products for customers and also offers a diverse range of pre-made insulation and other thermal materials including mesh, cement, cloth, glass, ceramics, tape, metal, wool, fittings, fiberglass, and many others.
Shook & Fletcher’s history began in 1901 in Birmingham, Alabama, where the corporate headquarters remain today. The company was originally founded to support the steel industry in the region, which at the time was booming. Originally it worked with products related to iron, coke, coal, and bricks, and it wasn’t until 1949 that the company broke into the insulation industry. In 1967 a group of employees bought Shook & Fletcher and it has been family-owned ever since.
Shook & Fletcher began making insulation at a time when it was common to use asbestos for its insulating properties. The company used asbestos in most of its insulation products through the 1970s. At that time it was well-known that asbestos was harmful and the federal government began to put restrictions in place for how it could be used.
Ultimately replacing asbestos with less harmful materials, Shook & Fletcher nevertheless experienced an influx of lawsuits over asbestos exposure and the illnesses that resulted from that exposure. The lawsuits and their accompanying costs were eventually enough to drive the company to bankruptcy court in 2002. The company survived bankruptcy and established an asbestos trust for compensating victims. Today it is a leading supplier of insulation in the southeast.
Asbestos Use in Shook & Fletcher Insulation
For years Shook & Fletcher used asbestos to manufacture many of its insulation products. Other companies did the same, using the mineral because it was easy to get, inexpensive, but most importantly, one of the most effective known insulators. Asbestos has been used for millennia, but never in greater quantities or on the scale it as used in the twentieth century. With its ability to resist heat and keep it from leaking out of a building or piece of equipment, asbestos proved to be like a miracle substance for the insulation industry.
For Shook & Fletcher it just made sense to use asbestos to make its products better at insulating, but also more durable and longer-lasting. Some of the products they made with asbestos include a range of insulating cements, coatings, seals, ceramics and fibers, textiles including wools, tapes, and various types of insulation. The company also likely had asbestos in some of the components of its fabricating equipment, in order to prevent overheating from friction.
Asbestos Exposure in Workers
A whole range of workers were put at risk of asbestos exposure because of the products made by Shook & Fletcher during its asbestos years. The way in which someone gets exposed is by inhaling or ingesting the microscopic fibers. This can happen most easily when someone is working with asbestos. The workers for Shook & Fletcher who actually made the materials with asbestos, for instance, were at risk of inhaling the fibers that broke free as they handled the mineral.
Other workers that were put at risk were those who worked with or around the company’s insulation in other industries. Since the insulation was used across a range of industries, there were many workers put at risk, including insulation installers, drywall workers, other construction workers, maintenance workers, boiler workers, pipefitters, steamfitters, workers in shipyards, oil refineries, and power plants, and so many more. In these other industries, workers may have been exposed when Shook & Fletcher products were installed or repaired. Disturbing asbestos-containing materials can lead to exposed fibers that anyone nearby could inhale.
Lawsuits over Asbestos Illnesses
When people are exposed to asbestos the fibers may get stuck in the body, damaging tissues. Over time that damage causes illness in some people. Not all people will get sick, but some will develop a devastating cancer called mesothelioma, while others may develop lung cancer or a progressive type of scarring in the lungs called asbestosis. Because Shook & Fletcher used asbestos for so many years, thousands of people claimed it was liable for their illnesses. These people filed lawsuits against the company looking for justice and compensation.
Beginning in the 1970s Shook & Fletcher began fighting these lawsuits, but in many cases paying out big settlements. In one notable case a widow won an $8.4 million award after her husband died from mesothelioma. He had worked as an insulator for Shook & Fletcher and other similar companies. In 1993 the company also did legal battle with its insurance companies, hoping to get the money needed to settle claims. It went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court but the Shook & Fletcher and other companies lost.
Bankruptcy and Reorganization
By 2002 the costs of covering claims and making settlements with asbestos victims and insurance companies was too much for the still profitable company to handle. In spite of ongoing success with non-asbestos insulation, Shook & Fletcher could not cover all the claims being made. The company did reorganize successfully and continued to make and sell insulation products. It also created an asbestos trust as part of reorganization, called the Shook & Fletcher Asbestos Settlement Trust. This was established to pay current and future victims of asbestos exposure.
If you believe that your asbestos exposure occurred, at least in part, because of asbestos insulation and other products made by Sook & Fletcher, you can file a claim with the asbestos trust. These trusts can be limited, though, to both time of year claims are made and amounts paid out to victims. This means you need an experienced mesothelioma and asbestos lawyer to help you make your claim and get the compensation you deserve.
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