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Appeals court affirms $14 million asbestos wrongful death award

Asbestos suit

An appeals court in South Carolina on Wednesday affirmed the denial of a motion for retrial in a $14 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a contractor who performed maintenance at a polyester plant and suffered from mesothelioma stemming from asbestos exposure.

From 1971 to 1980, Dennis Seay was assigned via his employer Daniel Construction Co. as a contractor to handle all maintenance work at the CNA Holdings LLC’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In his duties of maintaining and repairing pumps, valves, condensers and other equipment, he allegedly came into contact with asbestos gaskets, packing and insulation materials. In 2013, Mr. Seay was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer, according to documents in Angela D. Keene, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Dennis Seay, Deceased, and Linda Seay, Respondents, v. CNA Holdings LLC, Appellant, filed in the Court of Appeals of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina.

After his diagnosis, Mr. Seay and his wife, Linda Seay, filed a lawsuit against Hoechst Celanese Corp., now known as CNA Holdings, “alleging negligence by failure to warn Seay of the dangers of asbestos, failure to provide adequate safety measures against asbestos dust, and failure to provide safe environmental conditions in the Spartanburg plant,” records state.

Mr. Seay died from advanced mesothelioma one year later. Mr. Seay's daughter, Angie Keene, subsequently amended the complaint to add causes of action for wrongful death and survival. CNA Holdings then filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative for summary judgment, on the basis that Mr. Seay was a statutory employee and therefore his exclusive remedy was under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act, records state.

The circuit court denied the motion and at the conclusion of the trial in 2015, a jury found that the plant’s negligence caused Mr. Seay's mesothelioma and awarded $2 million in actual damages to his estate for its survival claim, $5 million in actual damages to the estate for its wrongful death claim and $5 million in actual damages to Linda Seay for her loss of consortium claim. The jury also found Celanese was “willful, wanton, and reckless” and awarded $2 million in punitive damages, according to documents.

CNA Holdings filed several motions, including one for a new trial, which the circuit court denied. The company then appealed the denial of the post-trial motions, arguing that “the jury was motivated by passion, prejudice, or other considerations not founded on the evidence, particularly the jury's premature deliberations. . . considerations of outside influences,” among other reasons. 

The appellate court affirmed the denial of the post-trial motions in part on the basis that the company was aware of its asbestos problem and that a “culture of concealment’ of internal company documents going back to 1963 proved the case. It also affirmed “the preponderance of the evidence supports the circuit court's conclusion that Seay was not a statutory employee of Celanese” and that he was a contractor.

The appellate court also addressed Mr. Seay’s medical costs: “In its order addressing Appellant's new trial motion, the circuit court very thoroughly addressed how the $2 million award for the survival claim was supported by the evidence of the many medical procedures Seay had to undergo before and after his diagnosis; the physical and mental suffering he endured; and the evidence of Seay's health, vigor, and active family life before he became ill with mesothelioma.”

“In sum, the circuit court properly concluded that the damages awards were supported by the evidence and were not excessive,” the ruling states.






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