When Albany International Corp. released second-quarter results last week, it reported being involved in 3,677 claims for personal injury due to alleged exposure to asbestos-containing materials.
The company, founded in Albany in 1895 and now headquartered in New Hampshire, for years focused on the production of custom-designed belts and fabrics that run the machines used in papermaking – so-called paper-machine clothing.
Today the company also supplies highly engineered composite parts for the aerospace industry, a line of work that prompted the out-of-state move, even though “Albany” stayed in the name.
It’s the legacy paper-machine clothing that prompted the asbestos lawsuits. Or, as the company recites in its periodic filings with regulators, “Albany International Corp. is a defendant in suits brought in various courts in the United States by plaintiffs who allege that they have suffered personal injury as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing paper-machine clothing synthetic dryer fabrics marketed during the period from 1967 to 1976 and used in certain paper mills.”
The filings then offer a running tally of the lawsuits outstanding, including new claims and those that have been dismissed, settled or resolved. That’s where the 3,677 number comes from, as the claims outstanding as of June 30.
The filings state that even though Albany International believes “we have meritorious defenses to these claims,” it chose to settle some. The total number of settled or dismissed claims stood at almost 37,700 as of June 30, according to the second-quarter report.
The company paid out $10.3 million to resolve those claims – the money coming almost exclusively from its insurance carrier. Some $140 million of coverage remains, the company says.
Albany International isn’t alone in facing asbestos-exposure claims. General Electric Co., for instance, noted in its annual report filed in February that it had set aside some $1.7 billion in reserves for “environmental remediation and asbestos claims” as of Dec. 31.
Albany International, GE and other familiar corporate names – Borg Warner, Honeywell, International Paper, 3M – are found in the asbestos lawsuits that are occasionally filed locally by individuals or their estates. Some look for big payouts for the alleged exposure, although Albany International’s second-quarter results show $93,000 as the average amount paid to settle or resolve claims as of June 30.
Nationally, the pace of new claims is declining, according to NERA Economic Consulting of White Plains, which reviews public company annual reports for mentions of asbestos-related liabilities. NERA said 2017 was the third year in a row showing a decline.
That was the finding, too, of Washington, D.C., consultant KCIC, which also found a corresponding drop in filings for major disease type (mesothelioma, lung cancer, other cancer, non-malignant).
Asbestos, a naturally occurring fibrous mineral, was widely used by industry prior to the 1980s because it resisted heat and corrosion. It is a known human carcinogen, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].