Written By: Daniel King,
Last modified: April 19, 2021
Quick Facts
  • Founded:
    1906
  • Years Operated:
    1906 – present
  • Headquarters:
    Northern California
  • Business:
    Industrial refractory contractor
  • Asbestos Trust:
    Yes
  • Bankruptcy Status:
    Filed in 2002, emerged in 2006

J.T. Thorpe’s History with Asbestos

J.T. Thorpe Inc. was founded in 1906 in San Francisco, California, and became one of the top refractory contractor businesses in the United States.

Refractory contractors construct and repair industrial equipment that operates in extremely high-temperature or acidic conditions such as steam boilers, furnaces and chemical refining machinery.

For much of J.T. Thorpe’s history, asbestos was a primary ingredient in many of the insulation and refractory materials the company used. Asbestos fibers were used to increase heat resistance and durability in these products.

To protect their profits, executives denied any knowledge of the mineral’s lethal toxicity until the weight of the evidence against them finally led to a deluge of lawsuits in the 1970s and 1980s. J.T. Thorpe stopped using asbestos-containing materials by the 1980s, but it was too late to avoid the legal consequences.

In 2002, the costs of asbestos litigation forced the company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and create a trust fund to handle future asbestos claims. Today, the company is known as J.T. Thorpe & Sons Inc.

Development of J.T. Thorpe Trust

To emerge from bankruptcy, J.T. Thorpe Inc. had to create the J.T. Thorpe Settlement Trust to provide compensation to future victims of asbestos exposure.

Since its creation in 2006, the trust has compensated more than 4,500 claimants. It paid out more than $8 million in 2016 alone.

In 2019, the trust paid approximately $4.6 million, nearly halving the 2016 payout. That year, the trust received 762 claims, paid 150 claims and made settlement offers on 147 claims.

The trust’s current payment percentage is 45%, which is high in comparison to other asbestos trust funds.

There are two other asbestos trust funds with very similar names:

  • The Thorpe Insulation Settlement Trust was created in 2010 when the Thorpe Insulation Company emerged from bankruptcy. The company conducted insulation work in Southern California.
  • The J.T. Thorpe Company Successor Trust was established in 2004 through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of a refractory contractor company based in Houston, known as J.T. Thorpe Co., which mainly served clients in Texas and Louisiana.
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Asbestos Litigation Involving J.T. Thorpe

Before filing for bankruptcy, J.T. Thorpe had faced more than 80,000 asbestos lawsuits and paid out more than $100 million in compensation.

  • In 2013, a California jury awarded $38.9 million to the estate of Secundino Medina, who listed J.T. Thorpe Inc. among the defendants in a lawsuit claiming he developed mesothelioma as a result of working with asbestos products throughout his career as a factory worker.
  • J.T. Thorpe reached a private settlement with plaintiff Donald Osterberg in 2011 after two weeks at trial in California. Thorpe was the last remaining defendant when the trial began. Osterberg was exposed to asbestos working as a cleanup crew member at a PG&E steam plant where Thorpe was installing asbestos block, asbestos cement and asbestos pipe covering around boilers and pipes.

J.T. Thorpe’s Asbestos Products

J.T. Thorpe distributed or installed the following asbestos-containing products:

  • Asbestos blankets
  • Asbestos block
  • Asbestos cement
  • Asbestos cloth
  • Asbestos duct insulation
  • Asbestos pipe insulation
  • Asbestos refractory materials
  • Asbestos wiring insulation

J.T. Thorpe employees who installed these products experienced direct exposure to asbestos products.

They had to cut, shape and sand asbestos-containing materials during installation, which released high levels of asbestos into the work area. Anyone working at the installation site was also at risk of exposure.

Occupations at Risk of Exposure to J.T. Thorpe’s Asbestos Products

The following occupations faced risk of exposure to asbestos products distributed or installed by J.T. Thorpe:

  • Boiler workers
  • Chemical plant workers
  • Factory workers
  • Industrial workers
  • Insulators
  • Oil refinery workers
  • Pipefitters
  • Power plant workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Steamfitter

The expertise of refractory contractors was essential to power plants, shipyards, oil refineries and other heavy industries.

Many J.T. Thorpe employees who worked with refractory materials were subjected to long-term occupational asbestos exposure, which increased their risk of developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis later in life.

Employees of the businesses that contracted J.T. Thorpe for installation projects have also suffered asbestos exposure.


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