General Motors

Expert Fact Checked

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Jennifer Lucarelli Lawyer and Legal Advisor

General Motors (GM) manufactured, used and sold asbestos products from the 1920s into the 1990s. The company’s products exposed thousands of people to the cancer-causing mineral. In 2009, GM filed for bankruptcy, partially due to asbestos litigation. An asbestos trust fund began accepting claims in 2012.

01. History of Asbestos Use

General Motors History of Asbestos Use

In 1908, William Durant founded GM in Flint, Michigan. Durant already had important experience in the automotive industry and had held a management position at Buick Motor Company since 1904. Durant formed GM as a holding company for already existing brands, including Buick and Oldsmobile.

Quick Facts
  • Years in Operation: 1908 – Present
  • Location: Detroit, Michigan
  • Production: Automobiles, automotive parts, appliances
  • Asbestos Trust: Yes

GM grew quickly. Less than two years after its start, 22 companies were a part of the GM family. Notable brands include:

  • Buick
  • Cadillac
  • GMC
  • McLaughlin (GM Canada)
  • Oakland (Pontiac)
  • Oldsmobile

GM and its subsidiaries manufactured automobiles and their parts. The company used asbestos as an additive in automotive products to help them withstand heat and friction. These products included brakes, brake shoes, brake linings and clutch linings.

In 1916, GM was reincorporated in Detroit, held an initial public offering (IPO) and began to expand again. That year, GM purchased Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco). Delco would go on to become an important division of GM.

GM added 14 new companies to its portfolio between 1916 and 1920, including Chevrolet, Fisher Body and Frigidaire. These acquisitions led to diversification. GM began to move into new fields. Over the next several years, the company expanded into aviation, locomotives, vehicle insurance, electricity and appliance manufacturing.

GM’s involvement in military contracts in the wars of the 20th century led to even more growth and product reach. For example, in 1942, GM converted all of its facilities to wartime production plants. The company built more than $12 billion worth of defense goods during this time.

GM’s asbestos use was at a high during this time. Its products contained large amounts of the mineral, intended to help vehicles function under harsh conditions. Veterans and military personnel faced asbestos exposure from GM’s products.

The company continued to grow and expand. Thousands of workers, veterans and civilians were exposed to asbestos through its products. Like other asbestos companies, GM has faced litigation as a result of its asbestos use.

By 2009, the company faced $627 million in asbestos liabilities. It declared bankruptcy that year in response to rising asbestos claims and other debts. In total, the company claimed $173 billion in debt.

GM’s bankruptcy proceedings involved the creation of trusts to satisfy the company’s debts, including an asbestos personal injury trust. GM sold its assets to a new company with no debt, which became known as “the new GM.” The company continues to operate today.

02. Asbestos Products

General Motors Asbestos Products

General Motors was one of the nation’s leading manufacturers and distributors of asbestos-containing automotive parts.

Some asbestos products manufactured and distributed by GM include:

General Motors Products Containing Asbestos
List of Products Containing Asbestos
Product Name Start Year End Year
General Motors Brake Linings 1920 1990
General Motors Clutch Linings 1946 1985
General Motors Disc Brakes 1966 1985
General Motors Drum Brakes 1920 1975
General Motors Locomotive Brake Shoes 1964 1983

From 1946 to 1948, GM brake components contained 40% – 60% chrysotile asbestos. These parts may have been sold under the GM brand name, or a subsidiary like Delco.

GM’s asbestos use continued well into the late 20th century. By 1997, GM had stopped using asbestos for engine gaskets in vehicles sold in North America. However, a 1998 report revealed that GM still used asbestos-containing brakes on some new models and in replacement parts for older models.

For decades, the company also included asbestos in other products, including appliance components, aircraft parts, boilers and military equipment. Other GM products known to contain asbestos include:

  • Adhesives
  • Automatic transmissions
  • Brake linings
  • Brake shoes for locomotives
  • Clutch linings
  • Delco-Heat brand boilers and appliances
  • Disc brakes
  • Drum brakes
  • Engines
  • Frigidaire brand appliances
  • Gaskets
  • Heavy equipment (loaders, etc.)
  • Injection-molded plastics
  • Manual transmissions
  • Various types of insulation

Today, asbestos use is restricted, though some products may still contain up to 1% asbestos.

03. Occupational Exposure

General Motors and Occupational Exposure

Many types of people risked occupational asbestos exposure from GM’s asbestos products.

Its automotive products exposed thousands to asbestos. Factory workers who manufactured brakes, clutches and other auto parts may have been exposed on the job.

Auto mechanics may also have been exposed to asbestos through GM’s products. Maintenance and repair of asbestos products may lead to asbestos fibers becoming airborne. Products with wear and tear on them pose a risk of releasing fibers into the air. Mechanics who inhale asbestos fibers may develop an asbestos disease, like lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Car owners and consumers may also be at risk of asbestos exposure from GM’s auto products. This is especially true for car owners who maintain and repair their own vehicles.

GM’s wartime manufacturing also exposed thousands of veterans and military personnel to the mineral.

Occupations Impacted by General Motors’ Asbestos Use
04. Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Against General Motors

General Motors’ decades of asbestos use led to millions of dollars in asbestos liabilities. The company has faced thousands of mesothelioma lawsuits and claims.

One successful mesothelioma lawsuit was filed by an auto mechanic in 2007. The mechanic was consistently exposed to asbestos in automotive parts during his 36-year career. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005.

The mechanic brought a lawsuit against GM and Ford Motor Company for asbestos exposure in the companies’ brake and clutch parts. The jury decided in the mechanic’s favor, awarding him $2 million. The liability was split between the defendants, with GM responsible for 70%.

Mesothelioma lawsuits may also settle, rather than go to a jury verdict. Successful asbestos settlements against GM include:

  • A $6,978,612 settlement to a 63-year-old plant worker in Flint, Michigan. The recipient named several GM plants as sources of exposure, including the ACDelco spark plug plant, Fisher Body plant and Ternstedt plant.
  • A $4,843,702 settlement to a 67-year-old plant worker in Detroit, Michigan.
  • A $1,408,384 settlement to an 81-year-old worker in Cincinnati, Ohio. This worker named several sources of exposure in their asbestos case. This worker had been exposed in the Marines and as an HVAC professional. Their case named the Fisher Body division of GM, several Cincinnati buildings and various other companies.

If you or a loved one have developed an asbestos-related disease, you may be eligible for mesothelioma compensation. Experienced mesothelioma law firms can review your options and help you receive the compensation you deserve.

05. Asbestos Trust Fund

General Motors Asbestos Trust Fund

In 2009, GM filed for bankruptcy, partly to handle the company’s rising asbestos claims. One 2009 bankruptcy proceeding document recorded $627 million in asbestos liability for the company. GM moved through bankruptcy quickly, thanks in part to a bailout infusion of cash from the U.S. government.

The current payment percentage for successful claims is 12.2%.

Most of the company’s assets were sold during Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The buyer, NGMCO, Inc., was primarily owned by the American and Canadian governments. This new company became colloquially known as “the new GM” and was officially renamed General Motors Company LLC.

The “old GM” retained the auto company’s liabilities and was renamed Motors Liquidation Company (MLC). MLC was split into four trusts to handle various aspects of old GM’s liability. This included the Motors Liquidation Company Asbestos Personal Injury (PI) Trust. The MLC Asbestos PI Trust officially opened to accept asbestos trust claims in 2012 with initial funds of $625 million.

The trust’s payment percentage has fluctuated over time. Most recently, it was adjusted to 12.2% in August 2022. Claim payouts may vary depending on several factors, including a claimant’s age, exposure history, type of asbestos disease and their law firm’s settlement history.

As of December 31, 2021, the trust has paid 13,896 asbestos claims since its beginning. This amounts to approximately $85.4 million in financial compensation paid to asbestos victims. In 2021 alone, the trust paid $10.9 million in claims.

Asbestos exposure victims of General Motors can contact an experienced mesothelioma lawyer. They can discuss options like filing a trust fund claim against the Motors Liquidation Company Asbestos PI Trust.