Worker's Family Seeks $15M For Asbestos Cancer Death

September 29, 2015 – Media Coverage

Law360, Los Angeles (September 29, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT) -- The family of a maintenance worker who died of mesothelioma decades after asbestos exposure urged a South Carolina jury during opening arguments on Tuesday to find Celanese Corp. and John Crane Inc. liable for his death, saying that the companies should pay up to $15 million for failing to warn him about the deadly material.

Dennis Seay worked at a Celanese Corp. plant where he was exposed frequently to asbestos-containing gaskets manufactured by John Crane from about 1971 to 1980, said his family's attorney, Chris Panatier of Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett PC.

"They had an opportunity to protect him, and they failed to protect him," Panatier told jurors. "At the very time, decades before he set foot at Celanese, they already knew. Not only should they have known, but these companies had actual knowledge that asbestos caused disease and that it was killing people."

Seay, however, didn't know about the dangers of asbestos and the companies never warned him or took any precautions to protect him, Panatier said.

Seay filed the suit in September 2013, a month after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He died in December 2014 at age 70.

To illustrate the aggressiveness of the disease, Panatier showed jurors a photo of Seay two days before his death, his body almost skeletal, his features sunken. He then showed a photo of Seay a year before his death — an apparently healthy man.

John Crane attorney Mark I. Tivin of O'Connell Tivin Miller & Burns LLC told jurors that its asbestos gaskets were protected by an insulation layer, and that others working with asbestos in the same facility were working directly above Seay, raining material down on him through grated floors.

Celanese attorney H. Lane Young argued that Celanese hired Daniel Construction Co., a respected construction contractor that employed Seay, and that Daniel Construction was responsible for protecting Seay from the asbestos.

Celanese made polyester resin and fiber, not asbestos-containing products, he said. Daniel Construction workers maintained the plant, which at times involved contact with asbestos-containing products, he said.

"We assumed because of what they told us and what they signed, that Daniel [Construction] would provide a safe workplace for all Daniel [Construction] employees, including Mr. Seay," he said.

The plaintiffs are represented by Chris Panatier of Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett PC.

John Crane is represented by Mark I. Tivin of O'Connell Tivin Miller & Burns LLC.

The case is Dennis Seay v. 3M. Co. et al., case number 2013CP4203915, in the Seventh Judicial Circuit of South Carolina.