By the 1900s, it had expanded its product line into the area of heating industry insulation. By the First World War, Johns Manville had begun military vessel production utilizing asbestos-laden insulation. In the early 1970s, the company became known for making pipes, cement, and fiberglass that were asbestos-based. Due to so much legal action being taken against them for causing illnesses like mesothelioma, Johns Manville went bankrupt in 1982.
Harmful Products and Health Consequences
Johns Manville’s asbestos-laden product line included J-M brand cement, adhesive, flex board, felt, paper, caulking putty, and shingles. The company sold flooring tiles under the brand name TerraFlex, and insulation under the brand names Vulcabestos and Thermobestos.
Given the diversity of their product line, workers from multiple industries were exposed to asbestos, including military members, painting and roofing contractors, carpentry workers, mining workers, steel and shipyard workers, textilers, pipefitters, boiler workers, electrical workers, and roofers.
Since Johns Manville began utilizing asbestos in such large quantities years earlier than many manufacturers, employees and those who worked with the company’s productions developed signs of asbestos-related disease by the 1930s.
Many later developed mesothelioma, which has a long latency period. Mesothelioma often is not diagnosed until 20 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos. As the business used asbestos-based materials long into the 1970s, many more diagnoses will likely be made.
Because workers were not made aware of the occupational health risks associated with their work from coming into contact with asbestos fibers, it can be difficult to determine which products are responsible for a particular diagnosis decades later. Although it is known that mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure, many people before the 1970s worked at companies that exposed them to dangerous carcinogens. Hence, some lawsuits filed against J-M before the bankruptcy named multiple suppliers and employers. In these cases, the courts determine which percentage of each claim a company is responsible for paying.
Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust
After going bankrupt, the paying out of settlement claims for asbestos-related disease has been handled since 1988 through a fund as required by the courts. This fund is known as the Manville personal injury settlement trust. Those who sued in court prior to J-M going bankrupt earned higher settlements and were awarded substantial verdicts, some of which amounted to more than a million dollars per lawsuit. However, claims through the bankrupt company’s trust are paid out at lower rates and are capped by what is approved by the bankruptcy courts. The trust has thus far paid approximately five million dollars in claims. These claims account for around 800,000 people who have passed away or become ill since the bankruptcy.
A New Company with a New Product Line
In 2001, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired Johns Manville. Today, the company produces insulation and construction products free of asbestos and formaldehyde. Its product line is now made with fiberglass and polyurethane.1