Congoleum Corporation started in the early 1800s by the Narin family in Scotland under the name Narin Linoleum Co. as a floor cloth manufacturer. After the company was moved to the United States and began producing vinyl floors, asbestos was added to the products.
Congoleum, based in New Jersey, manufactured resilient sheet flooring, floor tiles, inlaid linoleum flooring and other flooring styles using the dangerous additive to increase the product’s strength and heat, fire and chemical resistance. Congoleum, like other companies of the time, never warned its employees or others who came into contact with the products of the risks associated with asbestos exposure. Records show that many companies instead worked to conceal the dangers to ensure they would continue to earn massive profits.
By the time the general public learned of the actual dangers of asbestos, scores of people started becoming gravely ill as a result of exposure. By 1993, the company, overwhelmed with legal claims due to its use of asbestos, filed for bankruptcy protection. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy was finalized in 2010.
How was the Congoleum Trust Formed?
Soon after the Nairns Linoleum flooring company moved to the United States, it partnered with Congoleum to become Congoleum-Nairns. In the 1950s, the company began producing the first no-wax resilient vinyl floors. As the company expanded, it shortened its name to Congoleum Corporation.
Between 1947 and 1984, the company used asbestos in its products. In 1981, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection found Congoleum was one of the six primary processors of asbestos products. The company used thousands of pounds of asbestos in its products, putting its employees and its customers at risk for exposure. The company owned manufacturing facilities in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
As a growing number of asbestos victims began filing legal action against Congoleum, it sought protection via the bankruptcy courts. The bankruptcy proceedings started in 1993, but it took almost two decades for the courts to approve the reorganization plan. In 2003, Congoleum faced nearly 100,000 asbestos-related claims.
Like other asbestos trust funds, the Congoleum trust only pays a fraction of the requested amount to ensure there will be enough funds to pay all claimants in the future. In 2017, the Congoleum trust increased its payment percentage from 6.25 percent to 12.5 percent. In the same year, the trust paid a total of $12.3 million in claims. In July of 2020, Congoleum was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Upon their filing, they reported they held nearly $75 million in assets and well over $100 million in liabilities.
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Specific Lawsuit Against Congoleum
A floor covering contractor named Robert Ehret, filed a lawsuit against Congoleum and many other asbestos product producing companies after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Congoleum was the only company that did not settle with Ehret.
After refusing to settle, Ehret died while the trial continued. His family continued the suit in his interest and the jury eventually found Congoleum liable. Congoleum was assigned 25 percent fault while the other companies were only 12 percent at fault. Based on this finding, the jury also awarded an amount of $3.5 million.
How Did the Congoleum Corporation Use Asbestos?
Despite knowing about the dangers of asbestos, the company still used the product. Some of Congoleum’s products did carry labeling indicating added asbestos, but warnings were never included.
Manufacturers that made asbestos-containing vinyl flooring followed a similar process that included opening 50-, 70- or 100-pound bags of asbestos and removing the product by hand into large vats. The asbestos was mixed with other products, including liquid chemicals and water, to form a mixture that was put through a series of rollers and heat to create flooring.
As a result of a 2004 partnership with 3M, Congoleum no longer used asbestos in their products and instead replaced it with Scotchgard Protector. This had never been done before and gave Congoleum a great market advantage.
Congoleum Corporation Asbestos Containing Products
In manufacturing flooring, manufacturers, including Congoleum, used asbestos because it improved the products. Some of Congoleum’s leading products contained pounds of asbestos. The company produced vinyl and linoleum flooring under brand names that include:
- Gold Seal Narion
- Flor-Ever Vinyl
What did the Congoleum Corporation use asbestos for?
- Abrasion resistance
- Dimensional stability
- Heat, oil, grease resistance
- Fungal resistance
- Moisture and rot resistance
Congoleum Corporation and Hazardous Occupations
In manufacturing Congoleum vinyl flooring, workers were often exposed to airborne asbestos during the measuring, blending and mixing process. Because asbestos fibers are so lightweight, the fibers can linger in the air for hours.
In addition, workers who install or repair asbestos flooring can also be exposed to the asbestos toxin. Such exposure often occurs when old, brittle floors are removed or sanded.
What occupations were known to have an increased risk of asbestos exposure?
- Congoleum factory worker
- Mixing operator
- Flooring installer
- Construction worker
- Home inspector
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Congoleum Corporation Average Settlement Amounts
The Congoleum Plan Trust, like other asbestos trusts, was established to help people who were exposed to asbestos. Court documents show that corporate executives knew about the dangers asbestos would cause. Instead of warning the workers and providing adequate protection from the dangers, companies, including Congoleum, chose to ignore the warning to put profits ahead of worker safety.
For the Congoleum asbestos trust, claimants have an option of choosing a quick review for faster access to a monetary settlement (expedited review) or a slower review that may provide a higher settlement amount (individual review). Both types of review require a significant amount of documentation and proof of exposure. The trusts also distribute funds based on the severity of the disease and other factors.
|Lung Cancer 1||$45,400|
|Lung Cancer 2||$12,300|
Claimants who choose an expedited review will receive a fixed amount of funding based on the schedule determined by the trustees. An expedited review is intended to help asbestos victims who need fast access to settlement funds. Trustees process expedited claims within 90 days in the first-in, first-out (FIFO) processing queue.
By filing for an individual review, claimants are entitled to a thorough examination of medical and occupational records. An individual review takes longer (120 days from entry into the FIFO processing queue), but it could mean more substantial financial settlement.
The trust does not provide information for the average value of asbestosis/pleural disease and other asbestos disease claims in an individual review.
In 2017, the trust received 6,857 trust claims requests and paid 780. Since the trust began, it has denied 261,313 claims.
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- Congoleum Trust. 2019 Annual Report. Retrieved from http://www.congoleumtrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Ninth-Amendment-to-the-First-Amended-Congoleum-Plan-Trust-Distribution-Procedures.pdf
- FindLaw.com. “EHRET v. CONGOLEUM CORPORATION”. Retrieved fromhttps://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1223992.html
- U.S. Department of Environmental Protection. “Life Cycle Of Asbestos In Commercial And Industrial Use Including Estimates Of Releases To Air, Water And Land.” Retrieved from https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=20012HKA.txt