Owens-Illinois Inc.

Expert Fact Checked

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From 1947 to 1958, Owens-Illinois Inc. produced asbestos-containing products like insulation. This led to decades of lawsuits. While Owens-Illinois Inc. no longer uses asbestos, it continues to face legal actions from asbestos victims. As of 2022, a trust fund handles all asbestos claims against the company.

01. History of Asbestos Use

Owens-Illinois Inc. History of Asbestos Use

Owens-Illinois Inc. was a prominent manufacturer and supplier of asbestos insulation in the 1940s and 1950s. The company’s asbestos products exposed hundreds of thousands of people to the dangerous mineral.

Quick Facts
  • Years in Operation: 1903 – Present
  • Location: Perrysburg, Ohio
  • Production: Glass, insulation
  • Asbestos Trust: Yes

The company was first founded in 1903 as Owens Bottle Machine Company. At first, it solely focused on manufacturing and supplying bottle-making machines. However, through acquisitions, the company soon ventured into glass bottle production, plastics and cardboard packaging.

Between 1909 and 1920, Owens Bottle Machine Company acquired more than 15 companies. During this time, the company changed its name to Owens Bottle Company to reflect the changes in product offerings.

In 1929, Owens Bottle Company and Illinois Glass Company merged to form the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, marking the largest merger in the glass industry at that time.

As the demands of the industry evolved, Owens-Illinois shifted its focus to insulation. In 1943, the company built a new plant to manufacture an insulation product containing asbestos, called “Kaylo.” It may have sold a small quantity of the insulation product in 1944. This was the company’s first venture into the insulation industry.

Owens-Illinois manufactured the majority of its asbestos-containing Kaylo insulation products between 1948 and 1958. The company used asbestos fibers in its insulation products, pipe coverings and other products. The asbestos-containing products were then sold to Owens-Corning Fiberglas, which continued to produce the materials.

After ending its asbestos use in 1958, Owens-Illinois Glass Company changed its name to Owens-Illinois Inc. and began to aggressively pursue international expansion. The company’s final name change would come in 2006 when it officially adopted the O-I abbreviation.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Owens-Illinois continued to grow. However, the company’s brief use of asbestos led to thousands of people being exposed.

In 1977, the company faced its first asbestos-related lawsuit. The lawsuits continued to mount, and the company declared bankruptcy in 2020. In 2022, it emerged from bankruptcy and created an asbestos trust fund to handle its asbestos claims.

Today, Owens-Illinois employs more than 25,000 people. It is the largest glass bottle manufacturer in the world.

02. Asbestos Products

Owens-Illinois Inc. Asbestos Products

Owens-Illinois established its first Kaylo asbestos insulation material plant in 1943. The company used asbestos in its thermal insulation products to increase heat-resistant properties, durability and strength.

The peak of Owens-Illinois asbestos use was between 1944 and 1958. In that time, the company sold roughly $40 million worth of asbestos products. It sold the Kaylo rights to Owens-Corning Fiberglas in 1958, which continued to produce Kaylo asbestos products until 1973.

From approximately 1943 to 1958, Owens-Illinois manufactured two popular asbestos products:

  • Kaylo block insulation
  • Kaylo pipe insulation

Tradespeople and workers who used these products or helped manufacture them may have been exposed to asbestos. Boilermakers, pipefitters and those who worked with insulating products may have been particularly at risk.

03. Occupational Exposure

Owens-Illinois Inc. and Occupational Exposure

Anyone who worked around Owens-Illinois Kaylo insulation was at risk of occupational asbestos exposure. This included the company’s employees and professionals who installed and serviced the product in other industries.

The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease may increase with repeated exposure, which can occur at jobsites. Anyone employed by the company between 1943 and 1958 may have been exposed to the dangerous mineral in the workplace.

Other tradespeople who come in contact with asbestos-containing Kaylo products may have also experienced asbestos exposure. Today, exposure can occur when working in older homes, schools and buildings that may still contain Kaylo insulation.

Occupations Impacted by Owens-Illinois Inc.’s Asbestos Use

Family members of Owens-Illinois workers may also be at risk of secondhand asbestos exposure. Secondary exposure happens when asbestos fibers get stuck to a worker’s hair or clothing. When they return home, household members may be exposed to the toxic fibers while handling or laundering clothing.

Anyone who performs “Do-It-Yourself” home repairs may also face asbestos exposure risks. This exposure may occur when removing, repairing or otherwise handling Owens-Illinois asbestos materials.

04. Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Against Owens-Illinois Inc.

Owens-Illinois was first named in asbestos-related lawsuits in 1977. Over the next 20 years, the company settled around 210,000 asbestos-related complaints. Before filing for bankruptcy, Owens-Illinois estimated it was named a defendant in ongoing asbestos claims involving roughly 14,000 plaintiffs.

One case filed against Owens-Illinois in 2014 involved an insulator who used the company’s products and was later diagnosed with mesothelioma. The jury verdict awarded the worker approximately $4.5 million.

In 2018, Owens-Illinois owed $125 million in asbestos liabilities. That same year, the company’s asbestos-related payments were $105 million. In 2020, the company began bankruptcy proceedings to shield itself from asbestos litigation.

05. Asbestos Trust Fund

Owens-Illinois Inc. Asbestos Trust Fund

As of 2022, a trust fund handles all asbestos claims against Owens-Illinois. The company has allocated $610 million to the trust to pay out all present and future asbestos claims.

The current payment percentage for successful claims is 50%.

To resolve its asbestos litigation issues, Owens-Illinois created a subsidiary company, Paddock Enterprises LLC. It then transferred its asbestos liabilities to this new company. The new company then declared bankruptcy. This strategy is called the “Texas Two-Step.” Legal scholars warn that it may threaten the integrity of the bankruptcy system.

Although only its subsidiary, Paddock Enterprises, declared bankruptcy, the resolution shields Owens-Illinois from asbestos litigation. Companies like Johnson & Johnson (J&J) are trying a similar tactic to handle asbestos lawsuits.

People exposed to asbestos through Owens-Illinois products may be able to receive compensation through the Owens-Illinois trust fund. All claims are subject to the payment percentage, which can change over time. The trust currently has a payment percentage of 50%. Various factors like a victim’s age, occupation, disease severity and a firm’s settlement history can all affect a claim’s final payout. A mesothelioma lawyer can help file an asbestos trust fund claim.