General Electric

General Electric (GE) has been a prominent leader in the world of electrical and industrial advancements for over 130 years. The company was founded in 1892 as the result of a merger between Edison General Electric Company and Thomson-Houston Electric Company with support from Drexel, Morgan & Co., and is headquartered in New York.

GE has earned a reputation as a leader in various sectors, including energy, aviation and healthcare. In addition, they have invested in (and also divested out of) several businesses and have been known by several brand names over the years, including:

  • General Electric Company
  • GE
  • GE Aerospace
  • GE HealthCare
  • GE Vernova
  • GE Capital
  • GE Lighting
  • GE Infrastructure
  • GE Power
  • GE Renewable Energy
  • GE Research

The company also operated and had subsidiaries in countries around the world, including Canada, Australia and Italy.

GE pioneered several innovations over the past century, but alongside their achievements, they have also faced legal challenges relating to asbestos. Like many manufacturers which operated during the twentieth century, GE utilized asbestos within its products, including electronics and insulation. This durable yet extremely hazardous material posed significant health risks to those exposed to its toxic fibers, including mesothelioma.

Asbestos Lawsuits Against General Electric

GE has been the subject of several lawsuits regarding their use of asbestos, focusing on the risk posed to workers as a result of asbestos exposure. Due to the company’s size, they have decided to fight these lawsuits through the legal system, as opposed to forming an asbestos trust fund.

As recently as 2019, General Electric – along with several other companies – settled out-of-court with Lynda Berry. Berry’s husband had worked as a paper mill engineer, and she alleged that her mesothelioma was caused by second-hand exposure to asbestos from her husband’s clothing. The lawsuit went to trial in Louisiana and the other defendants who did not settle had to pay a total of $2.25 million.

In a similar case, former Port Everglades Power Plant worker Arthur Montgomery sued GE for asbestos exposure. Montgomery, who worked with GE turbines, alleged that he was exposed to asbestos during his work. Unfortunately, he unknowingly carried asbestos fibers home on his clothes, resulting in his wife’s exposure. Tragically, Montgomery’s wife passed away from mesothelioma shortly after the lawsuit was filed. 

These two cases highlight how asbestos exposure and its consequences extend beyond direct workers, and can affect the families of those who worked for companies like General Electric.

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Occupations and Industries Affected

General Electric’s business operations have been diverse over the decades. As many of their products required durable, heat-resistant materials, asbestos was used in the manufacturing process for a number of their product lines. Asbestos was prized for its fireproof properties, before the true dangers of its toxic fibers were discovered.

Use of asbestos by GE potentially exposed workers in a number of different industries to the risk of mesothelioma, including:

  • Insulators
  • Electricians
  • Power plant workers
  • Consumer goods assemblers
  • Construction workers
  • Electrical engineers
  • Demolition crews

Workers employed by GE were at risk in two ways from the threat of asbestos exposure. Firstly, in their jobs, they may have come into contact with asbestos fibers as a result of the manufacturing process. Additionally, as power plants and factories were constructed using asbestos for insulation, it is likely that they were working in the presence of asbestos on a daily basis. 

The risk was not only limited to GE employees, but extended to their families. 

After returning home from work, asbestos fibers may have been present on uniforms and work clothes. If these were handled or disturbed by family members, it is likely that these tiny fibers would be thrown into the air, potentially risking second-hand exposure. 

An investigation by CBC News and the Toronto Star found that, between the 1940s and 1970s, General Electric’s now defunct plant in Peterborough, Ontario sold scrap asbestos to families in the local area for use as cheap insulation. GE has not acknowledged that it sold the asbestos and has been accused by local city representatives of downplaying the extent of the problem. Asbestos may still be lying in the attics of hundreds of homes in the area.

Level Of Asbestos Risk For Insulators and Electricians

Insulators are deemed as one of the industries most at-risk from asbestos exposure. Due to the heat-resistant nature of asbestos, it was widely used in insulation efforts throughout previous decades. Sadly, this puts insulators at significant risk of developing diseases like mesothelioma. Even in modern times, insulators working today may encounter asbestos when working on older structures.
Electricians, meanwhile, are classed as medium-risk. Asbestos was frequently used in wiring projects for insulation and protection. Electricians who worked on GE projects between the 1920s and 1980s (when asbestos was phased out) were at risk of coming into contact with asbestos; again, modern electricians who rewire older buildings are at risk from asbestos exposure.

GE Products Containing Asbestos

GE has manufactured a vast range of consumer products over the decades. Many of these products may have contained asbestos and put workers at risk of conditions such as mesothelioma. Products known to contain asbestos include:

  • Insulation
  • Furnaces
  • Turbines
  • Ovens
  • Cables
  • A number of other electronic products

These were sold under different brand names. For example, wiring and cabling was sold under the brand name Deltabeston, while GE produced ovens under the name Wil-Son Patent-Flex. Employees working on products are extremely likely to have been exposed to asbestos during their careers. 

Jolly v General Electric Co. [September 2021]

John B. DeVries et al. v. General Electric Company et al. [September 2021] 

Jury Verdict Upheld Against Boiler Defendant [May 2019]

Montgomery v A.W. Chesterton Co., et al. [January 2009]

David Martin v Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company, General

Motors Corporation, General Electric Company [January 2009]

Appalachian Ins. Co. v General Elec. Co. [February 2007]

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Written and legally reviewed by Samuel Meirowitz

Attorney and On-Site Legal Advocate

Samuel Meirowitz is a member of the “Top 100 Trial Lawyers.” Mr. Meirowitz was named a “Rising Star” in 2013 & 2014 by Super Lawyers and then a Super Lawyer every year since 2016. In 2013, Mr. Meirowitz obtained what is believed to be the first multi-million-dollar asbestos verdict seen in more than two decades in a New York federal court. In that highly contentious matter, Mr. Meirowitz was able to convince the jury to hold a boiler manufacturer responsible for 60 percent of the $3.8 million awarded, despite the defendant’s attempt to escape all blame by pointing fingers at the plaintiff’s employer and the U.S. Navy (in which the plaintiff admirably served from 1966-70 during the Vietnam conflict). This verdict was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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