Gasket Manufacturer Faces Trial Over Maintenance Worker’s Mesothelioma Death - Watch Online via CVN

Posted by David Siegel on Mar 19, 2024 12:37:39 PM

Bolton openings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Holly Peterson (left) and defense attorney Chris Massenburg (right) delivering their opening statements 

Spartanburg, SC - A South Carolina state court jury heard opening statements Monday in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a maintenance worker who blames her husband’s death on exposure to asbestos allegedly present in gaskets manufactured by John Crane Inc., and the full trial is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.

Plaintiff Melba Bolton filed her lawsuit on behalf of her deceased husband Curtis Bolton in 2021. Her attorneys claim his exposure to asbestos in Crane’s gaskets and packing while working in the maintenance department at a Celanese Corp. plant in the 1970’s caused him to develop mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer affecting tissue around the lungs often associated with asbestos inhalation. 

John Crane, the sole remaining defendant in the case when it proceeded to trial, denies that their gaskets were a substantial factor in Curtis Bolton’s death, arguing they contained a different type of asbestos than found in Bolton’s lung tissue samples, and that his work cutting through insulation exposed him to significant amounts of asbestos from other manufacturers.


Plaintiff attorney Holly Peterson, with Dallas-based law firm Simon Greenstone Panatier PC, told the Spartanburg County jury that Bolton’s work at a nearby Celanese plant from 1971 to 1977 predates John Crane’s alerting workers to the dangers of asbestos exposure in 1983.

Peterson detailed that studies as far back as the 1930’s showed asbestos posed a significant health risk, and she described John Crane as a “sophisticated company” that had the knowledge and resources to act on that information and implement safety measures for workers like dust control and respirator masks.

“This is not some mom and pop shop hardware store on the corner,” she said.

Peterson repeatedly acknowledged that Bolton had exposure to asbestos from a variety of sources, but she claimed evidence would show the chrysotile asbestos found in Bolton’s lung tissue matched the kind supposedly used in John Crane’s gaskets and packing during the same time period as his work at the plant, and that it was the main cause of his illness. 

She rejected the argument that asbestos remains largely sealed inside gaskets, suggesting John Crane knew the type of maintenance work Bolton performed could still expose him to the deadly mineral.

“They knew they would be cut, they knew they would be replaced, they knew that it would be scraped, wire-brushed, dropped on the ground, kicked back up, they knew that all of this would happen and they did not warn,” Peterson argued, according to CVN’s webcast of the proceedings. 

She did not ask for a specific amount of damages during her opening.

Representing John Crane, defense attorney Chris Massenburg of MG+M Law Firm urged jurors not to be swayed by understandable sympathy for the Boltons, and said that alleged exposure to asbestos in gaskets is very different than the types of massive exposure asbestos mine workers experienced that served as the basis for many of the early-20th century studies cited by Peterson.

“I am not here representing asbestos,” Massenburg said.

Massenburg maintained that to gain access to the gaskets he worked on, Bolton had to cut through large amounts of insulation containing a different type of asbestos called amosite, that he claimed poses a greater risk of mesothelioma and is far more more dangerous to humans.

“It’s not even close,” he stressed.

Massenburg told jurors they would hear evidence that Bolton’s actual exposure to the specific type of asbestos found in John Crane’s gaskets over his six years at the Celanese plant was equivalent to the exposure a 70-year-old has over their entire lifetime from breathing in asbestos particles in the ambient air.

The trial, expected to last one week, is being presided over by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina Jean Toal, who now overseas South Carolina’s consolidated asbestos docket after retiring from the state’s highest court. CVN’s gavel-to-gavel coverage will continue for the duration of the proceedings.

The case is captioned, Melba Bolton, et al. v. John Crane Inc., case number 2021-CP-42-02480 in South Carolina’s Fifth Judicial Circuit Court in Spartanburg County.

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Topics: Asbestos, South Carolina