John Crane’s History with Asbestos
What started in 1917 as the Crane Packing Company in Chicago grew into a world leader in engineered sealing systems with 19 manufacturing sites and more than 6,500 employees throughout more than 50 countries.
The brand is particularly recognized in the oil, gas, chemical, pharmaceutical, mining, paper and pulp industries. It offers a comprehensive range of mechanical sealing systems and power transmission couplings.
Unfortunately, many of John Crane’s products contained asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that can cause a variety of health problems, including mesothelioma cancer.
Crane was an industry leader for decades. It invented the first automotive mechanical seal in 1939 and still produces millions of seals for American automotive companies. Seals for all types of rotating equipment soon followed.
Crane originally manufactured packing and gaskets, which remain among its product line. In the late 1990s, business boomed with the acquisition of sealing competitors Sealol, Safematic and Flexibox, which expanded Crane’s product line and global presence.
John Crane has not filed for bankruptcy and continues to litigate asbestos lawsuits through the court system. The company is known for its “no-settle-regardless-of-merits” policy.
Asbestos Litigation Involving John Crane
John Crane is a popular defendant in many asbestos cases, particularly ones in Madison County, Illinois, where the company is based and where the court system is filled with asbestos litigation. Of the 4,450 asbestos lawsuits filed in the U.S. in 2017, about one-quarter were filed in Madison County, according to a KCIC industry report.
Unlike many of the corporations that have been swamped by asbestos-related lawsuits, John Crane has remained solvent and avoided bankruptcy.
Those who worked in John Crane factories and anyone who has worked with the company’s asbestos-containing products may have been exposed to the toxic mineral. Although the use of asbestos has declined dramatically, new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed on a regular basis because of the long latency period between exposure and diagnosis, which is between 20 and 60 years.
- In 2019, an Illinois panel upheld a $4.5 million verdict against John Crane involving a former employee who developed mesothelioma. The verdict was awarded to the estate of Patrick O’Reilly, who was a former pipefitter for John Crane from 1957 to 1985.
- In April 2016, a Philadelphia jury awarded $6.44 million to William Roverano, who filed a lawsuit against John Crane and others claiming he developed mesothelioma as a result of working with the companies’ asbestos products.
- In 2015, a New York jury awarded $1.4 million to the estate of William Voelker, a U.S. Navy veteran. Voelker filed a lawsuit after developing mesothelioma, claiming the cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos gaskets and packing made by John Crane. Jurors heard evidence that Crane knew asbestos was dangerous as early as the 1940s, but worked to cover up the risks.
- One of the largest asbestos verdicts in Virginia history involved John Crane. The family of John Bristow, a career shipyard worker who handled gaskets and seals made by Crane and later developed mesothelioma, was awarded $9.18 million in February 2012. Crane was held 100% responsible for the verdict because the other five potentially liable companies that were named in the original lawsuit all settled out of court.
- Crane was left as the lone defendant in another case that cost the company $2.4 million in 2011 and involved asbestos products supplied to the U.S. Navy. A jury in San Diego awarded the verdict in favor of Navy veteran William Mansir, a boiler room worker responsible for maintenance and repair of pumps, valves and boilers that used asbestos gaskets. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2010.
- In 2007, a California jury awarded $1 million to Steven Pelley, who developed mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos through products manufactured by John Crane and others. The jury allocated 25% fault to John Crane and found the company guilty of malice, oppression or fraud.
John Crane’s Asbestos Products
John Crane manufactured the following asbestos-containing products:
- Chemlon braided packing
- Chemlon molded packing
- Chemlon cup and cone ring packing
- Hydraulic packing
- Rope packing
Some of these products contained up to 80% asbestos. The company used both white chrysotile asbestos and blue crocidolite asbestos.
Occupations at Risk of Exposure to John Crane’s Asbestos Products
The following occupations faced risk of exposure to asbestos products made by John Crane:
- Auto mechanics
- Auto assembly line workers
- Boiler workers
- Chemical plant workers
- John Crane factory workers
- Oil refinery workers
- Paper mill workers
- Shipyard workers
- Railway workers
- U.S. veterans of the armed forces
John Crane’s products were widely used in many different industries, putting many occupations at risk of asbestos exposure in addition to those who worked at John Crane factories. Workers who replaced valves and gaskets had to remove insulation around pipes, which also may have contained asbestos.
A 2022 report by the European Commission noted that in 2019 alone, over 70,000 workers died from past exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos inhalation occurred often while cleaning and scraping asbestos-containing parts during routine maintenance. Workers in compact and closed spaces, such as ship compartments and automotive garages, were at high risk of exposure because of poor ventilation.