Jury sides with Celanese Corp. in $8M South Carolina asbestos case

By Angela Underwood | Jul 24, 2018

SPARTANBURG, N.C. (Legal Newsline) – Following a four-day asbestos exposure trial, 12 jurors found in favor of Celanese Corp. on July 19, ruling that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was not directly caused by the defendant.

Jerry Crawford v. Celanese Corp. was argued by Aaron Chapman of Dean Omar & Branham LLP of Texas for the plaintiff and attorney Mark Wall of Wall, Templeton & Haldrup in South Carolina for the defendant before 7th Judicial Circuit of South Carolina Judge Jean Toal. 

Streaming video coverage of the trial was provided to Legal Newsline by Courtroom View Network.

The jury heard testimony from July 16 -19 and deliberated for only a few hours before ruling the former employee did not contract cancer from the Spartanburg facility. Crawford was employed by Celanese Corp. from 1970 to 1974 and alleged he was exposed to asbestos at the site from pipe insulation supplied by Covil Corp.

The trial was contested from the start, with Toal instructing jurors that although sanctions were requested by Crawford’s attorneys who claimed Covil purposely destroyed key documents that would prove the plaintiff developed mesothelioma as a result of working at Celanese, they were to understand that even without the specific evidence, Crawford was in fact exposed to asbestos insulation supplied and installed by Covil Corp. when he was employed in the 1970s.

Both parties' attorneys' opening and closing arguments were strikingly similar. While Chapman concluded Covil “knew it, they did it and they hid it,” Wall countered that Covil Corp., which has been defunct since 1991, was not responsible since they were not the manufacturer and that Crawford was exposed to asbestos while changing the brakes on his vehicle for years.

“It’s crazy to believe that a few days ago, I stood up here and told you everything you were going to hear in this case,” Chapman said during his closing. “I promised you that were going to hear Covil knew it, they did it and they hid it. I think I have kept that promise.”

Wall countered that the “short trial, filled with complications” did not prove particular dates of exposure and, in his opinion, the piping manufacturer bore the ultimate responsibility for Crawford’s illness, not his client. 

Despite hours of testimony from molecular biologist Dr. Arnold Brody and qualified pathologist Dr. John C. Maddox, who described at length how mesothelioma can be caused by exposure to asbestos fibers, and former employees of the Daniel Construction Co., which renovated the facility with piping that contained asbestos, the jury was not moved.

The 12 jurors were also not persuaded by compelling testimony from Crawford himself or his two daughters, Patty Giles and Tessa Quinn. Rather it was the testimony of Robert Glenn, a representative of Covil-supplied asbestos insulation, and Don Buck, a civil engineer who worked for Daniel Construction, that seemed to sway them to rule in favor of the defendant.

“Daniel equals Covil,” Chapman said in his closing argument. “If Daniel did the job, Covil did the insulation.”

While showing family photos of Crawford, Chapman’s closing argument constantly blamed Covil, reminding the jury the business decision made by Covil, who was not legally responsible to warn employees of the dangers of asbestos in the 1970s, was morally wrong.

Chapman then asked the jury to consider the cost of Crawford’s life.

“They want to make a business decision, let’s make one for them,” Chapman said. “We are talking about a life that was taken away here in a board room.”

After detailing the $568,000 in medical bills Crawford accumulated in 2017 fighting for his life and then multiplying that number by 13 years - Crawford's life expectancy without mesothelioma - the attorney concluded that $7.34 million, plus the cost of Crawford’s wife dying without the peace of knowing what would happen to her husband, totaled $8 million in damages.  

In closing, Wall did not deny that Covil Corp. used asbestos piping, citing the 1977 deposition of corporation owner Palmer Covil. 

“I am not manufacturing these products, I am just buying them,” Covil said when asked about the pipes he sold.

As he argued throughout the trial, Wall asked the jury to consider the responsibility of both Daniel Construction Co. that used the pipes to construct and renovate parts of the Spartanburg site and also Crawford’s own interaction with asbestos.

“Brakes were considered by Dr. Maddox to be a contributing human factor and cause of his mesothelioma,” Wall said.

The jury agreed, with the court clerk reading the verdict that claimed Covil was not responsible for the negligence and implied and strict liability of Crawford’s cancer.

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7th Judicial Circuit of South Carolina Celanese Corporation

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