The Ford Motor Company is an iconic American company founded in 1903 in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford is the second-largest U.S.-based automaker and the fifth-largest in the world. However, the company’s rich history is scarred by the ubiquitous use of asbestos in many of its products.
Years Operated: 1903-present
Headquarters: Dearborn, MI
Business: Automobile and parts manufacturer
Asbestos Trust: No
Bankruptcy Status: Not bankrupt
Since the 1980s, the Ford Motor Company has been named in thousands of lawsuits as a result of asbestos use in auto parts including brakes, clutches and gaskets. Since it manufactured its first car in 1903, the company has used asbestos-containing parts in its vehicles.
Although highly durable and heat resistant, asbestos products become dangerous when damaged, releasing toxic fibers into the air. Inhaling these fibers sets the stage for a lengthy latency period before the potential development of cancer and other serious diseases.
Mechanics who installed and worked on Ford friction products, such as clutches and brakes, are most at risk of developing these life-threatening illnesses.
Ford, like many companies of the era, was a staunch supporter of the U.S. effort at home to win World War I and World War II. During WWI, the company produced submarine chasers, tanks and cars. In WWII, it made 80 percent of all U.S. B-24 bomber planes.
Fast Fact: All branches of the military relied heavily on asbestos in the past, putting veterans at higher risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Ford has dealt with a string of controversies and financial issues in recent decades. In 2001, the Firestone tires on Ford Explorers were recalled because of serious accidents involving vehicle rollovers in which at least 250 people were killed and 3,000 were seriously injured. The auto maker lost $2.1 billion paying for replacement tires.
In 2006, it announced a major company restructuring, which included closing unprofitable plants and mortgaging assets to acquire $23.4 billion to finance product development. In order to regain some lost sales, it brought the Ford Taurus out of its short retirement in 2007 and the next year sold Jaguar and Land Rover.
The company was praised in 2009 for avoiding bankruptcy and needing a government bailout, unlike its competitors General Motors Co. and Chrysler. While Ford remains one of America’s most successful companies — it ranked No. 10 on the Fortune 500 for 2017 — it continues to face mounting lawsuits and defend its past use of asbestos products.
Ford began phasing out asbestos brakes and clutches in 1983, when the dangers of the toxic mineral were widespread. However, the company continued to use the products in Ford Mustangs into the 1990s and asbestos-containing replacement parts were available until 2001.
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The majority of lawsuits filed against Ford involve the use of chrysotile asbestos in its brakes and clutches. Brake linings were reported by experts to contain 40 to 60 percent asbestos fibers.
During brake replacement or repair, the linings are often ground and sanded. This procedure causes dust containing asbestos fibers to enter the air where it is easily swallowed or inhaled.
In a landmark 1996 trial, Ford was ordered to pay more than $14 to the widows of two Baltimore mechanics who died of mesothelioma.
A six-member jury in the Baltimore circuit court awarded $8 million to the widow of Keith K. Grewe Sr. and $6.3 million to the widow of Nollie P. Wood Sr. These cases are believed to be the first time Ford was found responsible for asbestos exposure in its brake linings.
Grewe worked with Ford brakes and genuine replacement parts as a mechanic from 1957 to 1992. He used compressed air to clean out old brake dust and used a hacksaw, file and sandpaper to smooth the asbestos facings before installing.
He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1993 at age 56 and passed away nine months later. Medical experts testified the asbestos in Ford’s brake and clutch parts were a “substantial factor” in the development of his cancer.
Nollie Wood and his wife filed a lawsuit against Ford when he developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos while working near mechanics who worked on brakes and clutches.
Wood was a garage man at the U.S. Post Office Preston Street Garage in Baltimore, working there from 1948 to 1952. The vehicles serviced at the garage were Ford vehicles that contained genuine parts. Wood was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 1990 and died four months later.
On November 19, 2012, a California jury returned a $6.8 million verdict against Ford in favor of Pat and Sharon Scott.
Pat Scott spent his life working on cars, opening his first auto repair shop in 1966. He worked on many Ford cars and trucks as well as his personal Ford vehicles. Scott’s career and hobby of working on cars ended in 2011 when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma at age 69.
In the trial, Ford’s corporate toxicologist testified that the company knew about the dangers of asbestos brakes since 1960, despite continuing to sell the products until 2001. The jury found that Ford’s products were defectively designed and that the company was negligent, apportioning 22 percent liability to the automaker for Scott’s injuries.
The jury awarded Scott more than $1.2 million for his medical costs and lost income and $5 million for his pain, suffering and emotional distress. Sharon Scott was awarded $600,000 for her loss of Pat’s support and companionship.
In a 2015 trial, a Tennessee jury awarded a couple $4.6 million, finding Ford was 71 percent liable for Joyce Stockton’s exposure to asbestos.
The lawsuit alleged numerous companies were at fault for Stockton’s secondhand asbestos exposure, which led to her mesothelioma diagnosis. The Madison County, Tennessee, jury determined Stockton suffered her exposure to asbestos when she came in contact with her husband’s work clothes.
Ronnie Stockton worked with asbestos brakes manufactured by Ford while working as a mechanic at the garage located on his family’s property.
Secondhand asbestos exposure occurs when a person comes in contact with the toxic mineral in a non-occupational setting, such as handling or washing work clothes covered in asbestos dust.
On February 28, 2017, a New York appeals court upheld Ford’s post-trial disposal of an $11 million jury verdict.
The appeals court ruled there was insufficient scientific evidence linking Ford’s products to Arthur Juni’s mesothelioma diagnosis.
Juni, a former mechanic who worked on Ford vehicles in the 1970s, filed a suit against Ford and others, alleging asbestos exposure from their products caused his disease. After Juni died in March 2014, his widow, Mary Juni, substituted in as plaintiff.
The trial jury originally awarded $8 million for Arthur Juni’s pain and suffering until his death and another $3 million to Mary Juni for loss of consortium.
But in April 2015, Judge Barbara Jaffe granted a motion to set aside the verdict because of lack of evidence. The appeals court upheld the decision two years later.
In the face of mounting lawsuits, Ford has spent nearly $40 million to discredit claims that brake mechanics exposed to asbestos are at an increased risk of cancer.
According to a 2016 report from The Center for Public Integrity, Ford enlisted the help of consulting firms Exponent and Cardno ChemRisk to author corporate-financed studies on the possible association between brake work and mesothelioma.
The studies resulted in mixed and controversial results. Court records obtained by The Center for Public Integrity show more than 100 doctors, scientists and researchers worldwide have testified that asbestos brakes cause mesothelioma.
“[The consulting firms hired by Ford] published a lot, but they’ve really produced no new science,” said John Dement, a professor in Duke University’s division of occupational and environmental medicine and an asbestos researcher for more than four decades. “Fifteen years ago, I thought the issue of asbestos risk assessment was pretty much defined. All they’ve accomplished is to try to generate doubt where, really, little doubt existed.”
Occupations most at risk of asbestos exposure from Ford’s auto products are mechanics, specifically those who work with friction products such as brakes and clutches. However, employees and consumers who come in contact with these products at various stages of their production and distribution are also at risk.
For example, factory workers and warehouse employees come in contact with these products on a daily basis. Employees at auto parts stores and junkyards may also be exposed. Consumers who purchase these parts may also be at risk.
Asbestos-containing products sold by Ford include:
Ford sold asbestos auto parts under various brand names, including Ford, Mercury, Ford Authorized Remanufactured and Motorcraft.
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