Years Operated: 1928-present
Headquarters: Auburn Hills, Michigan
Business: Automobile parts
Asbestos Trust: No
Bankruptcy Status: Not bankrupt
BorgWarner Incorporated is an automotive parts manufacturer created in 1928 by the merger of Borg & Beck, Marvel-Schebler, Warner Gear and Mechanics Universal Joint. One of the company's early specialties was the production of automotive transfer cases, a part that attaches to the transmission to help power front and rear wheels. BorgWarner and its subsidiaries have also produced automatic and manual transmissions, as well as auto turbochargers. The company has created patented technology like the sprag clutch, which helps automatic transmissions smoothly change gears.
BorgWarner has continuously expanded throughout the decades. In the 1970s, various subsidiaries branched off as the parent corporation continued to focus on engine and drivetrain automotive components. Today, it has locations in 19 countries and makes more than $7 billion each year.
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The majority of the lawsuits filed against BorgWarner are the result of the company’s asbestos – containing brake pads and clutches. The company reported that it resolved 38,000 asbestos cases in 2005 and 27,000 in 2006. BorgWarner documents state that at the end of 2006, the company had about 45,000 pending asbestos-related claims. At this point it had already paid more than $16 million in defense and litigation fees alone, and it estimated a future liability of $40 million.
One case against the company involved Mark Buttitta, a former General Motors (GM) employee who died of mesothelioma at the age of 50. Buttitta worked at a GM warehouse during his summer and winter breaks in college in the early 1970s. He regularly came into contact with asbestos-containing brakes and clutches, including those manufactured by BorgWarner.
Buttitta also had prior secondary exposure to asbestos. When he was a child, his father had a similar job handling asbestos-containing clutches and brakes at a GM warehouse. Buttitta’s father came home with asbestos fibers on his clothing, exposing his family to the hazardous fibers.
Buttitta received a mesothelioma diagnosis in 2001 and died a year later. His surviving wife Susan sued BorgWarner, GM and several other companies involved. BorgWarner attempted to defend itself by saying its products were not in GM’s New Jersey warehouse when Buttitta worked there. However, the jury was unconvinced since the company had destroyed its GM sales records and had no physical evidence of its claim. The court ordered in 2010 that the companies involved in the lawsuit pay $30.3 million in total damages.
Unlike other companies who have faced thousands of asbestos claims, BorgWarner has maintained its business proceedings and has not filed for bankruptcy.
Until the dangers of asbestos were publicly known in the early to mid-1970s, the material was commonly used in automotive parts, especially brake pads and clutches. BorgWarner continued to supply asbestos brake pads and clutches until the 1980s.
BorgWarner’s chrysotile asbestos brake pads and clutches were used in automotive repair shops across the country, exposing auto mechanics to asbestos when brakes were grinded. Other automotive employees were also exposed while handling these products, including auto factory workers and warehouse workers.
Today, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration recommends methods to reduce asbestos exposure for auto technicians. Safety measures include using pressurized enclosures and wetting asbestos-containing material to minimize the amount of airborne asbestos fibers.
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