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As one of the Big Three automakers in the United States, General Motors manufactured scores of vehicles with asbestos-containing clutch facings and brake linings that put workers at risk for asbestos exposure.

GM, based out of Detroit, Mich., used asbestos-containing parts that included heat seals, gaskets, engine components and insulation in its vehicles despite the known dangers. Diversifying in 1930, GM also started producing appliances, like asbestos-lined Delco-Heat boilers. Between asbestos products purchased from third-party sources and GM’s own product lines, asbestos was being used to control heat and friction in their products early on in the company’s development. By the 1970s, scientific studies found working with brakes exposed workers to dangerous levels of asbestos.

Asbestos was also used in GM engine and brake plants nationwide, putting assemblers, fabricators, assembly line workers, skilled trade works and others at risk for exposure. Even today, GM may be one of the many car parts manufactures that still use asbestos. The deadly fibrous mineral is not banned in the United States.

By 2009, GM faced more than $636 million in asbestos claims and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The GM asbestos bankruptcy trust was established in 2012 and funded with $625 million for asbestos personal injury claims.

How was the General Motors Trust Formed?

GM was founded in 1908 by auto industry pioneer William C. Durant, who grew the company through acquisitions and branding. In the years that followed, Durant twice lost control of GM to investors who were unhappy with his work.

GM grew through the 1930s and 1940s to acquire auto parts companies such as Hyatt Roller Bearing and appliance manufacturers such as Frigidaire. GM also played a major role in World War II by halting vehicle production to produce weapons, tanks and ships. The prosperity of the 1950s brought a surge in car sales, providing an economic boom for the company.

Despite warnings for decades about the dangers of asbestos, GM used asbestos-containing products in the parts and products that went into its vehicles. GM plant employees and their families were exposed along with mechanics outside the company who worked on GM brakes and parts.

By the time GM filed for bankruptcy, the company faced thousands of legal claims due to its asbestos use. The Motors Liquidation Company Asbestos PI (personal injury) Trust began accepting claims in April 2012.

The GM trust, like asbestos trusts, only pays a fraction of the requested amounts to allow for an even distribution of funds across all claimants. From November 2016 to the present, the trust has paid out at 18.7%

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General Motors Asbestos Containing Products

Through the 1980s and despite repeated warnings about health hazards, asbestos was used in GM brake and clutch systems to prevent overheating from friction. Later the company purchased appliance companies including Frigidaire and Delco-Heat, which used asbestos in its products as well. Some of the asbestos-containing materials used or manufactured by GM include the following:

  • Oil pan gaskets
  • Break pads
  • Break Linings
  • Insulation
  • Engines
  • Locomotive brake shoes
  • Clutch linings

Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos and developed any asbestos-related disease has the right to make a trust claim. The funds can be used to pay for anything from medical bills to living expenses. Contact us today to find out how we help asbestos victims get the compensation they deserve.

GM High Risk Occupations

There are several occupations both inside the General Motors plants and in outside employment that are at risk for exposure to asbestos, as follows:

  • Factory workers – GM plants nationwide were known to have toxic levels of asbestos. Today, many of those plants have been abated and renovated, abandoned or slated for demolition. Sites including the GM stamping plant in Wyoming, Ohio, New York, Wisconsin and Tennessee. Factory workers could include anyone who assembled, repaired or handled GM asbestos-containing parts.
  • Auto mechanics – From the earliest days of car manufacturing, auto mechanics who worked on asbestos brakes were at risk for developing mesothelioma. Even today, mechanics are advised against using compressed air to blow out Chrysotile asbestos dust and beveling, grinding and sanding asbestos brakes.
  • Other automobile enthusiasts – The Motors Liquidation Company Asbestos Trust identifies other possible claimants, including “shade tree” mechanics (do-it-yourselfers), automobile hobbyists, individuals who occasionally performed brake and/or clutch work on their own vehicles or their friends’ and neighbors’ vehicles and individuals who were not regularly employed as professional auto mechanics.
  • Engineers and railroad brakemenEngineers who repaired appliances created by GM experienced similar risk. Asbestos exposure was also common in the rail industry, as asbestos was commonly found in brake linings.

Have there been any recent studies on auto mechanics developing asbestos cancer?

  • A 2018 study found workers performing asbestos brake installation or repairs are at “significant risk” of developing asbestos cancer.
  • “Automobile mechanics have been exposed to asbestos in brake dust in a car shop unknowingly,” the study found.
  • Other at-risk job titles in the automotive repair industry also include brake mechanic, body repairman and parts department sales representative.

How GM Exposed Workers to Asbestos

In the 1930s, an internal survey of GM brake plants found airborne asbestos concentrations were the highest in areas where asbestos cord was unwound for use in clutch manufacturing, areas where clutch facings were sanded, and areas where dry ingredients were mixed for brake lining composition. Industrial hygiene experts recommended better ventilation for the areas. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the company installed industrial ventilation in some plants.

GM used auto parts that had heavy concentrations of asbestos. When GM received these products from the manufacturers, employees were ordered to vacuum the asbestos dust from the shipping containers, package the dust in plastic bags and ship the bags to the landfill. Today, dozens of former GM plants are considered environmental hazards from the use of dangerous toxins including asbestos.

In 1986, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) passed regulations that required warnings on brake products, but GM didn’t begin applying the warnings until 1989. GM, along with automakers Ford and Chrysler, have paid more than $43 million to scientific experts who testified in court that the amount of asbestos used in brake shoes and pads was harmless.

GM Scheduled Values and Payment Percentage

Similar to other asbestos-related bankruptcy trusts, the GM asbestos trust distributes funds in one of two ways: expedited review or individual review.

Asbestos victims who are gravely ill or in need of fast access to funds can choose the expedited review, which provides quick access to a settlement based on predetermined sums per disease type.

The GM trust provides settlements based on the severity of disease and the means of exposure. In all cases, claimants who were exposed to asbestos as a result of their work as auto mechanics may receive higher settlements.

General Motors Settlements – Expedited Claims

Disease Compensation
Mesothelioma $175,000
Lung Cancer $50,000
Other Cancer $10,000
Severe Asbestosis $50,000
Asbestosis/pleural disease Up to $4,000

General Motors Settlements – Individual Review

Claimants who opt for an individual review typically receive larger settlement amounts over the expedited review. However, the claims take much longer to process.

In making a determination for an individual review, trustees take several factors into account including the claimant’s age, level of disability, employment status, the number of dependents, the amount of pain and suffering, the disruption of the household and typical family recreational activities.

Disease Compensation
Mesothelioma $220,000
Lung Cancer $80,000
Other Cancer $16,000
Severe Asbestosis $80,000

For non-mechanics who make an individual claim, the GM trust allows for the following level of compensation:

Disease Compensation
Mesothelioma $35,000
Lung Cancer $9,000
Other Cancer $2,500
Severe Asbestosis $9,000

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Written and legally reviewed by Daniel Wasserberg

Attorney and On-Site Legal Advocate

Daniel Wasserberg was a New York metropolitan area “Super Lawyer Rising Star” from 2013 to 2018 (attorneys under age 40), and a Super Lawyer in 2019. In 2017, Daniel was named a “Top 100 Civil Litigator” by the National Trial Lawyers organization. This recognition is rarely awarded to attorneys under the age of 40. Daniel is proud to call himself a Trial Lawyer, and is often asked to speak at gatherings of the nation’s leading attorneys, from both sides of the bar.

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