Owens-Illinois, Inc.

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Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

From 1948 to 1958, Owens-Illinois, Inc. produced asbestos-containing products, including insulation. The company’s use of asbestos led to decades of asbestos lawsuits. While Owens-Illinois, Inc. no longer uses asbestos in its products, it continues to face legal actions from mesothelioma patients and other 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

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

Owens-Illinois, Inc. was formed in 1903 after Michael J. Owens revolutionized the glass-making process. Owens developed an automatic glass bottle machine. Using the machine, thousands of glass bottles could be made in a single day without the use of skilled laborers.

At the time, the company was called Owens Bottle Machine Company and solely focused on creating the machines. However, through acquisitions, the company soon ventured into glass bottle production, plastics and cardboard packaging. The early 1900s continued to be a time of growth for the company, and 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.

The company’s largest acquisition came in 1929. Owens Bottle Company merged with Illinois Glass Company to form Owens-Illinois Glass Company. At the time, the merger between the two companies was the largest in the glass industry.

Owens-Illinois continued to innovate in order to maintain its success. The company changed its focus yet again and by 1942, began working on its Kaylo insulation. This was the company’s first experience within the insulation industry. As Owens-Illinois manufactured its insulation products between 1948 and 1958, the company incorporated asbestos fibers. The Owens-Illinois Kaylo insulation products that contained the mineral included block insulation and pipe covering, among others. The asbestos-containing products were then sold to Owens-Corning Fiberglas, which continued to produce the materials.

Owens-Illinois, Inc. manufactured its Kaylo asbestos insulation from 1948 to 1958.

After ending its asbestos use, Owens-Illinois changed its name to Owens-Illinois, Inc. and began to heavily pursue international expansion. By 1960, the company had expanded to nine countries. This growth secured Owens-Illinois, Inc.’s place at the top of the glass industry, and the company became the largest producer of glass containers in the United States by 1956.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Owens-Illinois, Inc. continued to experience growth and success. However, the company’s brief use of asbestos still led to thousands of people being exposed. The company faced its first asbestos-related lawsuit in 1977. It maintained steady growth, but continued to face lawsuits from asbestos victims. In 2020, the company declared bankruptcy. In 2022, it emerged from bankruptcy and created an asbestos trust fund to handle its asbestos claims.

Today, Owens-Illinois, Inc. employs more than 25,000 people and has nearly 2,000 active patents.

02. Asbestos Products

Owens-Illinois, Inc. Asbestos Products

Owens-Illinois, Inc. produced its Kaylo asbestos insulating materials from 1948 through 1958. The company added asbestos to its products to increase heat-resistant properties, durability and strength.

Owens-Illinois, Inc. stopped production of the Kaylo products in 1958 when it sold the rights to Owens-Corning Fiberglas. That company continued to produce Kaylo asbestos products until 1973.

  • Kaylo Block Insulation
  • Kaylo Canvas
  • Kaylo Pipe Covering
  • Kaylo Pipe Insulation
03. Occupational Exposure

Owens-Illinois, Inc. and Occupational Exposure

Anyone that worked around Owens-Illinois, Inc. Kaylo insulation is at risk of occupational asbestos exposure, including factory workers and installers. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases with repeated exposure, which can occur at jobsites. All those employed by the company between 1948 and 1958 may have been exposed to the dangerous mineral in the workplace.

In addition to the Owens-Illinois, Inc. employees, other tradespeople who come in contact with asbestos-containing Kaylo products may also experience 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
04. Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Against Owens-Illinois, Inc.

Owens-Illinois, Inc. was first named in asbestos-related lawsuits in 1977. By 1997, the company had settled asbestos lawsuits with 210,000 claimants. Before filing for bankruptcy, Owens-Illinois, Inc. estimated it was a named defendant in ongoing asbestos claims involving 14,000 plaintiffs.

One such case was filed against Owens-Illinois, Inc. in 2011 and involved a worker who routinely used the company’s products. The man worked as a pipefitter in the 1970s and was later diagnosed with mesothelioma. He filed a lawsuit against Owens-Illinois, Inc., Honeywell International Inc., John Crane Company and Pneumo Abex LLC. The jury awarded the worker approximately $90 million. Owens-Illinois, Inc. was found liable for:

  • A portion of $9.6 million in compensatory damages (total against all defendants)
  • $40 million in punitive damages

The compensatory damages were payment for his medical expenses and the injury caused by the company’s products. The punitive damages were awarded to further punish Owen-Illinois, Inc. The large amount is a result of the company being found guilty of suppressing information about the hazardous nature of asbestos. Since this case, the company has continued to be named in asbestos lawsuits.

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

05. Asbestos Trust Fund

Owens-Illinois, Inc. Asbestos Trust Fund

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

To resolve its asbestos litigation issues, Owens-Illinois, Inc. first 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 threatens the integrity of the bankruptcy system.

Although its subsidiary declared bankruptcy, the bankruptcy resolution also 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, Inc. products may be able to receive compensation through the Owens-Illinois trust fund. A mesothelioma lawyer can help file an asbestos trust fund claim.