Honeywell’s History with Asbestos
The Honeywell Heating Specialty Co. Inc. was founded in Minneapolis in 1906 by an engineer named Mark Honeywell. It specialized in hot water heat generators.
The company merged with the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company in 1927 and was renamed the Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Company. Its specialty product was thermostatic heat controls.
In 1979, Honeywell purchased North American Refractories Company, known as NARCO, which made asbestos refractory materials.
Honeywell Inc. merged with Allied Signal Inc. in 1999 to form a company with interests in aerospace, chemical products, automotive parts and building controls.
After the merger, the combined company was renamed Honeywell International. The purchase of subsidiaries manufacturing asbestos products meant Honeywell inherited some legal issues concerning asbestos exposure.
By 2010, Honeywell found itself a defendant in thousands of asbestos lawsuits resulting from the operations of its former subsidiaries. At the time, Honeywell estimated its potential liability from asbestos litigation at $1.1 billion.
Honeywell sold Bendix Friction Materials in 2014, but the company retained its asbestos liabilities and continues to face lawsuits related to asbestos exposure from Bendix’s brake linings that were made from 1939 to 2001.
On Oct. 1, 2019, Honeywell spun off a subsidiary known as Garrett Motion Inc. and shouldered the company with its estimated $1 billion in asbestos liability. In December 2019, Garrett Motion filed a lawsuit against Honeywell claiming its executives illegally forced Honeywell’s asbestos liabilities onto it.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation into Honeywell’s accounting for asbestos liabilities on Oct. 18, 2018. The company estimated liabilities at $2.61 billion as of the end of 2017, but a regulatory filing showed that it was $1.09 billion higher than the previous estimate.
Development of Trust Fund Connected to Honeywell’s Subsidiary
In 2003, Honeywell dealt with 47,000 asbestos lawsuits by selling its Bendix brake unit to a bankrupt company called Federal-Mogul, which filed for bankruptcy in 2002 to settle asbestos claims by establishing a trust fund.
The sale called for Honeywell to pay pending claims over a four-year period and included a cap on Honeywell’s annual payments to the trust to fund future claims. In the end, Honeywell remained the successor-in-interest to Bendix and continues to face asbestos lawsuits from plaintiffs claiming Bendix brakes caused them to develop asbestos-related diseases.
Honeywell’s other asbestos subsidiary, North American Refractories Company, filed for bankruptcy and established a trust fund in 2013 with $6.32 billion to handle asbestos claims stemming from its refractory products.
The bankruptcy plan assigned certain asbestos liabilities to Honeywell so that claims arising from bankrupt companies supplied by North American Refractories Company must file a claim with Honeywell.
North American Refractories Company sold its asbestos products to other companies. When those companies file for bankruptcy, an employee who has an asbestos claim against them has a right to take the claim up with Honeywell.
Asbestos Litigation Involving Honeywell
Honeywell continues to face asbestos lawsuits related to contaminated products that its subsidiaries manufactured.
- One of the largest verdicts against Honeywell came in January 2019, when a Little Rock, Arkansas, jury awarded more than $18.5 million to the estate of Ronald Burlie Thomas. He was a former brake shop worker who developed mesothelioma in March 2017 and died nine months later at age 72. Thomas worked with Bendix brake linings from 1971 until 1983. Honeywell negotiated a settlement with the plaintiff right before the verdict was issued that reportedly covered a range of verdicts.
- In January 2017, a California appeals court upheld a $5.8 million verdict against Honeywell. The verdict was awarded to the surviving family of James Lester Phillips, who died of mesothelioma and claimed it was caused by exposure to Bendix asbestos brakes.
- In 2014, a California jury awarded $10.9 million to the family of James Phillips, who developed mesothelioma after using Bendix asbestos brakes.
- In 2002, a $53.5 million asbestos verdict was awarded to the wife of Stephen Brown, a former automobile brake mechanic who died of mesothelioma in 2000. Not only was Honeywell responsible for paying 2.35% of the judgment because its Bendix division was found responsible for Brown’s death, but it was also responsible for ensuring that the plaintiffs received payment from bankrupt defendants named in the suit because it was the only non-bankrupt defendant.
Honeywell’s Asbestos Products
Asbestos-containing products manufactured by Honeywell’s subsidiaries included:
- Allied Signal Friction King disc brake pads
- Bendix aircraft brake linings
- Bendix brake linings
- Bendix brake blocks
- Bendix disc brake pads
- Bulls-Eye brake linings
- Eclipse brake linings
- EDF brake linings
- FK brake linings
- Friction Kind brake linings
- Marshal brake linings
- Master brake linings
- SI brake linings
- WM brake linings
Many of these products contained asbestos were used by the U.S. armed forces, particularly the Navy.
Honeywell’s Occupations at Risk
The following occupations were at risk of exposure to asbestos products made by Honeywell’s subsidiaries:
- Bendix and Allied Signal manufacturing plant workers
- NARCO manufacturing plant workers
- Aircraft mechanics
- Auto mechanics
- Auto assembly line workers
- Auto body workers
- Heavy machinery operators
- Veterans of the U.S. armed forces
Individuals who worked in occupations that required them to be in close proximity to the dust created by brake friction, such as mechanics and brake installers, may have been exposed to asbestos-containing products manufactured by Bendix.
According to a 2022 report by the European Commission, over 70,000 workers died in 2019 from past exposure to asbestos.
Those in the HVAC industry who repaired residential and commercial furnaces that contained the bricks and cement manufactured by NARCO for high temperature applications may also have risked asbestos exposure.