Years Operated: 1967-present
Headquarters: St. Paul, Minn.
Business: Insulation products
Asbestos Trust: Yes
Bankruptcy Status: Filed in 2002 and restructured in 2004
Amount in Trust: $2 billion
Year Created: 2004
Western MacArthur Company is a manufacturer of insulations, roofing and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) products. It was formed in 1967 by a merger between the MacArthur Company and Western Asbestos, and at the time the company focused primarily on asbestos pipe insulation. Despite filing for bankruptcy in 2002, Western MacArthur remained one of the largest suppliers and manufacturers in the construction industry for various insulations and accessories. It has 12 branches covering five states with a national distribution system.
Like many other companies in its line of business, Western MacArthur used asbestos in many of its products, including wall and pipe insulation, until the 1970s when the government began regulating its use. The use of so much asbestos in its products left Western MacArthur open to litigation from all directions, which led to the bankruptcy filing in 2002 and later the establishment of an asbestos-liability trust fund of $2 billion. Western MacArthur insulation was widely used in the construction of buildings, some of which still stand and still contain it today.
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The Western Asbestos Settlement Trust, a result of the bankruptcy restructuring in 2004, paid out $1.1 billion in claims to those harmed by the asbestos used by the company years before. The trust fund, which remains active, was designed to settle all ongoing and future claims against Western MacArthur.
A large portion of the fund’s assets came from Western’s insurance providers United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company (USF&G) and Hartford Insurance Company as part of the restructuring.
The trust allowed Western MacArthur to divert the thousands of individual lawsuits that began pouring into the courts as victims and family members realized the dangers of asbestos. Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma, a rare cancer with a latency period that can be as long as 50 years after being exposed.
A well-documented case example was brought by Janice C. Hughes, the widow of an asbestos worker. The husband of Hughes worked for Western Asbestos Company from 1944 to 1967. He was diagnosed in 1977 with both asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma and died the following year. In 1978, Hughes filed a wrongful death suit against several asbestos manufacturers, including Western Asbestos Company and the successive Western MacArthur Company. Hughes lost the original judgment but won the appeal in 1987, which led to Western MacArthur being held responsible for the husband’s illness and death. That was just one of thousands of similar lawsuits that were filed.
The company’s use of asbestos likely exposed thousands of its employees, along with thousands more who used those products, to a substance that already had been known to cause health issues like mesothelioma.
Construction workers who installed or uninstalled Western MacArthur insulation products came into direct contact with the asbestos. Anyone living near a Western MacArthur factory, where the products were made, or anyone working in the buildings where the product was installed, became at risk for health issues.
Products were used anywhere insulation was needed, from large industrial projects in major cities to shipyards on the coast, where asbestos use was commonplace. Contractors everywhere were requesting insulation products and accessories from Western MacArthur. Commercial construction insulation, roof insulation, fastening systems, fire protection products, duct insulation and all sorts of adhesives contained asbestos, putting so many at risk.
Although Western MacArthur has not used asbestos in its products for decades, the fallout from previous use remains, particularly as structures age and the asbestos becomes more brittle. Products like fiberglass pipe insulation, fiberglass pipe covering, fire blankets, duct board, duct wrap, tapes, adhesives, caulking, hardcast coatings, etc. once all contained asbestos. And many remain in use. Anyone exposed to the products 20 to 30 years ago could be at risk today because it often takes so long for the illness to develop.
Western MacArthur was involved indirectly in a New York appellate court ruling in January 2012 regarding one of the longest-running asbestos-litigation cases in history. It stemmed from an insurance policy taken by Western Asbestos, which became Western MacArthur, with Travelers Insurance in 1948. Travelers, which helped fund the Western asbestos trust in 2004, was suing reinsurers Munich Re and Ace Ltd., to recoup some of its losses to Western. In October of 2010, a lower New York court ruled that the reinsurers were obligated to help cover Travelers. That ruling was reaffirmed by the appellate court in 2012.
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