Lincoln Electric’s History with Asbestos
The Lincoln Electric Company was founded in 1895 by electric motor engineer John Lincoln. His brother James, also an electrical engineer, became general manager of the company in 1914. The company’s top product lines included welding equipment and rechargeable batteries for electric automobiles.
During World War II, Lincoln Electric was the largest producer of arc welding equipment in the world. Its products contained asbestos to improve their fireproof qualities, a fact that endangered the company’s workers.
Because of Lincoln Electric’s welding expertise, it received a number of ship repair assignments from the U.S. Navy during this period. Those who repaired ships faced even higher risks of exposure because Navy ships were largely made with asbestos as well.
Lincoln Electric expanded operations during the 1950s and ‘60s, and in 1953, its first international division opened in France. The 1990s brought another rush of sales and industrial growth to the company, marked by expansion of the workforce and dozens of new acquisitions. Lincoln also recaptured its position as the leader in the welding industry.
Lincoln Electric is still one of the world’s foremost designers and manufacturers of welding equipment. Although it maintains its headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, it has more than 40 manufacturing operations in 20 countries and distributes products to more than 160 countries.
Unlike many other asbestos manufacturers, Lincoln Electric has not filed for bankruptcy as a means to handle its asbestos liabilities. The company continues to settle or litigate asbestos claims through the court system.
Asbestos Litigation Involving Lincoln Electric
Lincoln Electric has been named in thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits because of its asbestos use in welding rods. However, company reports show that Lincoln has defended and won a number of these cases.
The company’s 2019 annual report states, “Since January 1, 1995, we have been a co-defendant in asbestos cases that have been resolved as follows: 55,114 of those claims were dismissed, 23 were tried to defense verdicts, 7 were tried to plaintiff verdicts (which were reversed or resolved after appeal), 1 was resolved by agreement for an immaterial amount and 900 were decided in favor of the Company following summary judgment motions.”
Lincoln Electric indicated that based on its previous success in these lawsuits no major financial setbacks should occur. Since 2000, the number of asbestos lawsuits against the company has declined.
Still, the occasional loss in court can cost the company millions of dollars.
- In 2003, two former welders brought one such case against the company. The men were exposed to asbestos via the company’s welding rods and later developed mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer. The jury awarded the men more than $6.64 million. It was the first U.S. jury verdict to award compensation for lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure from welding rods.
- A Pennsylvania appellate court affirmed a $396,000 verdict in 2007 in favor of John Donoughe, who was diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer in 2001. In a lawsuit against Lincoln Electric and 10 other asbestos manufacturers, Donoughe claimed his lung cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos-containing products, including welding rods made by Lincoln. He used the welding rods to repair air brakes for Penn Central Railroad. Donoughe’s lawyer said he previously secured a $500,000 verdict against Lincoln in a similar asbestos lawsuit involving a welder.
- In 2010, a Philadelphia jury awarded $14.5 million to the estate of James Nelson, who died of mesothelioma in 2009 after exposure to Lincoln Electric’s asbestos-containing welding rods and several other products made by other asbestos companies. Nelson worked at two steel plants beginning in 1973 until he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2008. The defendants successfully appealed the ruling and the case is set for retrial.
Lincoln Electric’s Asbestos Products
Lincoln Electric’s welding rods were among the company’s most popular products, and documents state that they contained 15% asbestos.
Welding rods are encased by a material called flux that prevents metal oxidation, and this material contained asbestos to control heat. Using the rods released asbestos into the surrounding air, which exposed welders and nearby workers.
Historically, welding equipment has been a source of asbestos exposure for thousands of workers.
Occupations at Risk of Exposure to Lincoln Electric’s Asbestos Products
The following occupations faced risk of exposure to Lincoln Electric’s asbestos-containing welding rods:
- Shipyard workers
- Railway workers
- Brake repair workers
- Factory workers
- Power plant workers
According to a 2022 report by the European Commission, over 70,000 workers died in 2019 from past exposure to asbestos.
Lincoln Electric’s older products primarily served the automotive, structural and shipbuilding industries.
The company stopped using asbestos in 1981. Because asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma cancer can develop as much as 50 years after asbestos exposure, former employees are still at risk.
Today, Lincoln’s products are most commonly used in power generation equipment, including wind power and thermal energy power plants.