The $14 million award given to the family of a man who died from a disease caused by asbestos exposure was upheld this week by a South Carolina appeals court. Dennis Seay had sued Celanese Corp., in September 2013, a month after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He died December 2014.
Seay was employed by Daniel Construction Company, which was hired by Celanese. Seay did maintenance and repair work on machinery at a Celanese facility from 1971 to 1980 during which he was exposed to materials containing asbestos.
Asbestos was widely used in construction materials until the 1980s, when its use was restricted due to health concerns. Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or chest. It can take 10 to 50 years for asbestos cancer to produce symptoms. Once diagnosed, the disease generally proves fatal within a year or two.
Seay’s lawsuit claimed that the company failed to protect workers from the hazards caused by asbestos exposure. His case went to trial and the family was awarded $12 million in compensatory damages and an additional $2 million in punitive damages.
John Crane, the maker of asbestos-containing gaskets Seay worked with, was found not liable for Seay’s fatal disease.
Celanese had appealed, saying the lower court should have granted a mistrial and that Seay’s award was excessive. But the panel disagreed.
“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,” Judge John Geathers said in the panel’s opinion.