$14 Million Jury Verdict for Death of Worker Caused by the Company’s Failure to Protect Against Asbestos Exposure

Dennis Seay worked for Daniel Construction Co., which was a contractor for Celanese Corp. From 1971 through 1980, he did maintenance work at the Celanese polyester fiber plant located in Spartanburg, S.C. Seay was exposed to asbestos-containing products while working at Celanese. The different jobs that Seay had included handling various brands of gaskets, packing and insulation manufactured by John Crane Inc. and others for use on and in equipment throughout the Celanese plant.

In 2013, Seay at age 69 was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Seay underwent 3 procedures to reduce the size of his tumor and multiple procedures to drain fluid from his lung, which had collapsed on various occasions. Seay unfortunately died the following year at age 70. He was survived by his wife, two adult sons and one adult daughter.

Seay’s daughter, individually and on behalf of his estate and his wife, sued Celanese Corp. alleging that the company was aware of exposure to asbestos products used throughout the plant but chose not to warn of the dangers or to take other steps to protect workers like Seay. The Seay family contended that Celanese was in complete control of the plant and was responsible for auditing the safety program provided by Seay’s employer to ensure that it was adequate.

The Seay family also sought punitive damages claiming that Celanese had acted recklessly in choosing not to warn or protect workers, given that the company had been aware of asbestos for decades. During trial, the attorneys for the Seay family showed the jury stacks of articles that Celanese had received pointing out in these industrial hygiene journals the risks of exposure to toxic chemicals. These journals dated from the 1930s to the 1970s.

There was also evidence produced by the attorneys for the Seay family that the president of Celanese had authored a 1963 memorandum detailing how the company would conceal information about toxic hazards going forward. There was other evidence that showed that Celanese’s medical director had attended a landmark 1964 conference at which the dangers of asbestos were discussed.

This lawsuit also named John Crane and various other manufacturers of asbestos-containing products used at the plant as party defendants. All of the defendants, other than Celanese and John Crane, settled confidentially or were otherwise dismissed.  The case went to trial with just the two defendants, Celanese and John Crane.

The jury found that Celanese was reckless and negligent and awarded $14 million, including $12 million for Seay’s past pain and suffering, his wife’s loss of consortium and his family’s wrongful death claims. An additional $2 million in punitive damages were assessed against Celanese. John Crane was found not liable. Celanese moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a new trial and remittitur or its motion to reduce the size of the jury’s verdict.

The attorneys representing the Seay family were Chris Panatier, David W. Henderson, Theile M. McVey and Kevin W. Paul.

The plaintiff presented experts at trial in molecular biology, occupational medicine and pathology. The defendants presented experts in pulmonology and industrial hygiene.

Seay v. 3M Co., No. 2013 CP 4203915 (S.C. Cir. Ct. Spartanburg County, Oct. 8, 2015).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling toxic tort cases, chemical exposure cases, diesel fume exposure cases, asbestos exposure cases, mesothelioma cases, wrongful death cases, work injury cases, construction site injury cases and lung injury cases for individuals, workers and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Forest Park, River Grove, Itasca, Mount Prospect, Buffalo Grove, Glencoe, Chicago (Sauganash, Roscoe Village, Portage Park, Pilsen, Pill Hill, Norwood Park, De Paul University Area, Buena Park, Chinatown, Horner Park, Irving Park, Jackson Park, Kenwood, Koreatown, Lincoln Park, Archer Heights, Ravenswood Gardens, South Shore, Wrigleyville), Worth and Brookfield, Ill.

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