When Celanese Corporation was told it owed $14 million to the family of a man who died of malignant mesothelioma, the company immediately appealed the verdict. Their issue was not whether they were responsible for Dennis Seay’s exposure to asbestos within the walls of their facility: they knew that he had worked at their plant from 1971 to 1980, maintaining and repairing machinery that was contaminated with the carcinogenic material. Instead, the company argued that the man was their employee, and therefore his family was not able to pursue legal justice through anything but a workers’ compensation claim. They also argued that the award was too large. On both arguments, the South Carolina appeals court hearing the company’s arguments found their assertions fell short, and allowed the verdict to stand.
Appeal Based on Employment Status Shot Down by Court
Mr. Seay died of malignant mesothelioma in December of 2014. He was just 70 years old at the time, and had lived only 16 months after having been diagnosed with the rare and fatal form of cancer. Seay filed his lawsuit against the company within a month of his diagnosis, and Celanese immediately argued that though Seay was an employee of contractor Daniel Construction Company, he should be treated as a “statutory employee” (and therefore limited to the legal avenues available under workers’ compensation laws) because his work was integral to the operation of the plant. The lower court, which heard the case in a two-week trial, disagreed with this assertion, determining that his work was “significantly different” from that of the chemical factory’s employees. The appeals court agreed, writing, “As the court explained, ‘Although maintenance of the equipment in the plant may have been important to Celanese’s operations, it does not follow that such maintenance was a ‘part or process’ of its synthetic fiber manufacturing business.”
Court Rules $14 Million Mesothelioma Award Appropriate
The court also agreed that when a jury member had been dismissed for not having revealed that he had worked in the same factory, it had no impact on the outcome of the mesothelioma ruling made by the jury, and that the $14 million award provided to his surviving family was not excessive, writing that,
“The circuit court thoughtfully compared all of the awards with awards in other mesothelioma cases and with the legislative cap on punitive damages and concluded the awards were not excessive.” The family was given $12 million to reimburse them for the damages that they suffered, plus Celanese was assessed another $2 million in punitive damages due to the negligence it displayed in the operation of its plant.
In addition to seeking medical treatment and an extended survival with a high quality of life, mesothelioma victims are also entitled to justice. If you need information on any of these, reach out to the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.