Years Operated: 1898 - 1992
Headquarters: Brooklyn, New York
Business: Manufactured tiles and related flooring products
Asbestos Trust: No
Bankruptcy Status: Filed in 1992, reorganized in 1998
Founded in 1898 by Arthur Kennedy in Brooklyn, New York, Kentile Floors produced vinyl, cork and rubber floor tiles. Kentile specialized in large durable tiles made of a range of materials that were available in dozens of colors and patterns. By 1949, the company produced asphalt-based tiles and emerged as an industry leader. It advertised in Popular Science Magazine and similar publications in 1954, and its product prices were competitive against rivals like Armstrong, Congoleum-Nairin and Montgomery. The company even offered of a consumer-install option, alleviating the need for professional installation.
During the 1950s and '60s, Kentile Floors was one of America's largest manufacturers of super-resilient floor tile, and it was a national tile distributor. The company's asphalt and vinyl tile products contained asbestos to increase the tiles durability and resistance to fire. Kentile sold products that contained as much as 25 percent asbestos, without consideration to the health effects associated with asbestos exposure.
While some would say the company is best known for its landmark eight-story sign visible from the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn, Kentile is remembered by asbestos victims as responsible for disease and cancer, caused by their asbestos-containing products. Flooring tiles defined the company's product line, but the materials within the flooring tiles trailed the company's legacy. Even after the company went out of business in the 1990s, asbestos lawsuits against the company continued.
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Kentile Floors was not immune to wave of asbestos litigation that was prevalent throughout the late 1900s and 2000s. The increasing number of lawsuits caused a financial strain on the company and contributed to Kentile’s 1992 filing for bankruptcy, from which it emerged from and reorganized in 1998. Even then litigation continued.
In 2006, the company nearly faced further liability after being named in a mass tort action in which it was named among other companies, including J.A. Sexauer and Pecora Corporation. In this case, Beverly Fisher, Executrix of the Estate of Sidney Fisher, Deceased and Widow in her own right, v. J.A. Sexauer, Kentile, and Pecora Corp. , the wife of a former plumber alleged that various companies contributed to her husband’s lung cancer. It was later determined that Kentile Floors couldn’t be sufficiently proven as liable for Sidney Fisher’s lung cancer even though the Mr. Fisher was exposed to the company’s asbestos products. The plaintiff appealed the case and the outcome is has not been determined.
However, in August 2010, Kentile was found to be liable in the pain and suffering of Judith Harrell in the case William Harrell and Judith Harrell v. Allied Packing and Supply Inc., et al. The company was deemed responsible for six percent of the nearly $1.6 million verdict. Kentile’s asbestos-containing products were listed as a contributor to the plaintiff’s pain, alongside large manufacturers like Ford Motor Co., ExxonMobil, Georgia-Pacific Corp. and others.
Tile installers, carpenters, painters, plumbers and electricians are among the many occupations that likely interacted with Kentile’s asbestos flooring products. As most of these workers didn’t actually install the actual flooring, the asbestos products posed a threat if they were disturbed, potentially releasing the asbestos fibers in the air where they could be inhaled. Physical damage or forceful interaction with the flooring products could lead to fibers being exposed.
Employees of Kentile Floors are considered at increased risk of asbestos exposure from the company’s products, which could occur during various stages of the manufacturing process. Similarly, other employees and occupations within the industry may have dealt with Kentile’s flooring products.
The company’s floor tiles are commonly categorized as non-friable, referring to the products’ limited likelihood of crumbling and releasing asbestos fibers into the air. Still, flooring installers and repairmen expose themselves to the hazards associated with asbestos exposure by handling these dangerous tiles and flooring products.
Homeowners were another group at special risk because of the continual interaction with these contaminated products. Damage to Kentile’s flooring products, including improper repairs or home construction projects, could result in asbestos exposure. Any damage on these products should be handled with extreme care. The homeowner, carpenter, tiling installer or other worker should seek out medical attention and professional removal of the flooring material should occur.
Kentile Floors sold a variety of asbestos products prior to the dangers of asbestos becoming known. The company’s branded products include KenFlex floor tiles, Kenlite asphalt vinyl tiles, Kencork cork floor tiles and Kenrubber rubber floor tiles.
Prior to Kentile Floors closing, company executives reportedly made unsuccessful attempts to establish an asbestos trust to handle litigation. This would have allowed Kentile to return to business and produce non-asbestos products.
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