Todd Shipyards Corp. is one of the oldest surviving ship-building companies in the United States. Its origins date back to 1916, and at one point it ran ship-building operations in seven cities: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Houston and Galveston. The company thrived during the defense-spending era of the 1980s under then-President Ronald Reagan and later survived a three-year stint in Ch. 11 bankruptcy.
The company walked away from yards in New Orleans and Houston in 1989 and closed the Los Angeles location in 1989 as part of a cost reduction plan that included the relocation of its corporate office to New Jersey. The Galveston shipyard was shut down in 1991. The cost reduction came as the company’s ship-building projects had slowed down and claims related to asbestos exposure
Vigor Industrial bought Todd Shipyards for $130 million in 2010. It currently operates yards in San Francisco, Oakland and Brooklyn, and the new owners instituted asbestos safety procedures to prevent exposure.
In 2010, Todd Shipyards noted in its 10K Annual Report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it was fighting 490 asbestos claims from about 565 plaintiffs. It also said it was defending about 10 claims for mesothelioma, lung cancer and fully developed asbestosis and 184 claims that were less serious medically.
Todd Pacific Shipyard settled a number of the cases and has about $3 million in reserve, as well as $2.1 million in insurance funds on hand for settlements. However, court documents show that the damages from the cases could total more than $20 million.
The company also defended a number of claims brought by former employees who said their sicknesses stemmed from past asbestos exposure at the Brooklyn Yard. The company assessed claims as they were filed, subdividing them in two different categories based on how severe an illness the claimant had. Diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer and completely developed asbestosis were labeled as “malignant” claims. Lawsuits involving cases of a less medically serious nature were labeled as “non-malignant.”
The Los Angeles location was also among those facilities at which former workers claimed asbestos was abundant. Former employee Sidney Osmundsen filed a mesothelioma claim against Todd in 1981, a case that eventually went to the U.S. Court of Appeals before he won. Others followed suit, and Todd Shipyards reported it held more than $3 million in a bodily injury fund to pay off such claims, according to a 2010 SEC filing.
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Todd Pacific Shipyards bought the Oakland facility from United Shipbuilding in 1949. Workers there built and repaired small fishing boats and big oil tankers. Welders, construction crews and other employees were exposed to asbestos in high doses. Some employees reported that they stood in piles of asbestos as they worked.
The site resided in the famous San Francisco Bay near the Oakland Inner Harbor. The primary purpose of the Oakland facility was to serve as a repair station, as opposed to much of the major shipbuilding projects conducted across the bay in San Francisco.
The Todd Shipyards San Francisco Division started as a major ship construction facility near Alameda Point in the early 20th century. During World War I and the early 1920s, the facility expanded from seven acres to 75 and could carry out six construction projects at once. At the start of World War II, workers at the shipyards (now known as Bethlehem Alameda Shipyard) built transport ships and repaired over a thousand naval and civilian vessels for the war effort. It is currently part of Todd Pacific Shipyards, a subsidiary of Todd Shipyards.
As the shipyards expanded and construction projects continued, the facility increased its use of dangerous industrial substances, including asbestos. Up until the 1970s, asbestos was widely used in shipbuilding and construction projects. Many forms of insulation, including those used on pipes and electrical equipment, employed asbestos-containing materials to protect vital systems against overheating and fire damage. Asbestos fibers were also a main ingredient in gaskets and epoxies used to hold together crucial components.
Todd Shipyards Brooklyn, also known as the New York Shipyards, began in the mid-19th century and as a repair facility for large shipping vessels. Workers there built warship and destroyers during World War II, but the shipyard closed in 1986.
Ikea, the Swedish furniture giant, bought the Brooklyn property and began tearing down the shipyard to construct a 35,000-square-foot store in 2006. Demolition was halted when asbestos was discovered in the former shipyard. It was not news to former shipyard workers there.
Todd Shipyards began running the Los Angeles yards in 1943 when the U.S. Navy was dissatisfied with its own management of the site during World War II. This yard, then known as the San Pedro facility, became part of Todd Shipyards Corp. in 1945.
Former U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Munz is the director of the Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center, and he is a VA-accredited Claims Agent. He received the Bronze Star in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Munz has intimate knowledge of how veterans were exposed to asbestos because he served under similar conditions.
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