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The Polyester Fiber Manufacturing Case

Dennis Seay, a maintenance worker, developed cancer as a result of being exposed to asbestos while working at the Celanese plant in Spartanburg, SC, in the 1970’s.

Seay passed away in 2014, a little more than a year after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and particularly aggressive form of cancer that is linked almost exclusively to exposure to asbestos. From 1971 to 1980, Seay had been employed by Daniel Construction Co. to perform maintenance work at a polyester fiber manufacturing plant owned by Celanese, a specialty materials company headquartered in Texas.

The Seay family was represented by Theile McVey of the Kassel McVey firm and Chris Panatier and Kevin Paul of Simon Greenstone Panatier & Bartlett. Dennis Seay worked hard every day maintaining pipes, pumps and valves at the Celanese plant. During the 1970’s, the pipes were insulated with asbestos. The pumps and valves contained asbestos gaskets and packing and were also insulated with asbestos.

In order to perform the maintenance work, the asbestos insulation, gaskets and packing had to be removed, all of which exposed Mr. Seay to an enormous amount of asbestos. At the time Seay was working at the plant, Celanese had unusually extensive knowledge about the effects of asbestos, but failed to provide warnings about those known dangers to workers or contractors.

The company’s medical director had attended a landmark conference hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences in 1964 about the product’s dangers. Numerous documents showed an intention by Celanese to conceal from workers and contractors how much asbestos they were being exposed to and what that exposure meant to the health of the workers.

After a nine-day trial, the jury deliberated for about two and a half hours before finding Celanese liable and returning a verdict of $12 million in actual damages. After another brief deliberation, the jury assessed Celanese an additional $2 million in punitive damages. The jury also returned a defense verdict in favor of another defendant, John Crane Inc., which manufactured asbestos-containing gaskets used at the plant.

As a result of his mesothelioma, Seay suffered extensively. His lungs collapsed 10 times and he underwent several surgeries and endured chemotherapy before passing away from a combination of blood constriction, wasting and suffocation.

Seay was survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, three children and many grandchildren. After the jury came back with the $12 million actual damage verdict, prior to the punitive damage phase, Celanese, through their lawyers, apologized. Despite that apology, Celanese has appealed the verdict.

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