When given hours of evidence stretching across a long trial, jurors can become so overwhelmed they tune out potentially critical information, even in closing arguments. To counter that, Chris Panatier, of Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, employed an ingenious technique to burn verdict-turning evidence into jurors’ minds—he combined his words with the powerful visual people generally associate with a negative—red flags.
Panatier represented the family of Dennis Seay, who sued Seay’s former employer, the Celanese Corp. Seay, 70, died in 2014 of mesothelioma. His family claimed the disease stemmed from decades of exposure to asbestos at the Celanese plant and Celanese's failure to warn Seay of the risks, despite its clear knowledge of asbestos' dangers.
"I want to show you what [Celanese] knew. I want you to appreciate truly the breadth of their knowledge, because they absolutely had it," Pantier told jurors as he reached for a box filled with little red flags. As he placed the flags around the courtroom, he detailed each time Celanese had allegedly been warned of asbestos' dangers from the 1950s through the 70s. One flag represented a Celanese corporate representative who had known about asbestos in 1949 but still sold the company’s product in 1966. Another flag represented a 1970 toxicology report Celanese received showing their asbestos threshold limit value may not be safe.
By the close of Panatier's argument, dozens of red flags dotted the courtroom.
“I wanted you to be able to visualize it because it wasn’t a company that just maybe heard something,” Panatier said. “It was a company that received and read this information and were active participants… They had superior knowledge to everyone.”
Celanese, Panatier added, was not just a polyester company, but an “asbestos product maker.”
Hours after red flags filled the courtroom, jurors returned a $14 million verdict against Celanese, including $2 million in punitive damages.
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