A Los Angeles jury did not reach the question of punitive damages in a recent trial, but the personal care product and cosmetic industry got the message all the same. The jury had already awarded a 73-year-old woman $13 million in damages after just two hours of deliberation. The defendant manufacturer, Colgate-Palmolive Co., quickly moved to work out a confidential settlement with the plaintiff and, so, avoided getting even more bad news.
The settlement means that Colgate-Palmolive will not appeal the verdict. A similar case against a different company did go to the New Jersey court of appeals earlier this year, where the $1.6 million award was affirmed.
The plaintiffs in both cases claimed their mesothelioma was the result of exposure to asbestos-tainted talcum powder. The California plaintiff said that she had used Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder throughout the ’60s and into the ’70s. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2014. The New Jersey plaintiff’s exposure occurred during the first eight years of his life — 1967 to 1975 — according to the New Jersey Law Journal. His mesothelioma diagnosis came in 2011.
That talc can be contaminated with asbestos is not news to anyone in the industry. There have been other lawsuits, some still pending, and studies have shown a link between talc and other cancers. However, Colgate-Palmolive and other companies are not responsible for mixing asbestos with the talc.
The problem is that the manufacturers acquire tainted talc from suppliers. Talc is a soft mineral, mined in various locations around the country and around the world. The mines may be near to — or shared with — asbestos deposits, and the lethal fibers of the asbestos could be mixed with the talc during the process of extraction.
Colgate-Palmolive would be responsible for the effects of the contamination if, for example, the company knew of the contamination and used the talc anyway or failed to test the product to make sure asbestos content levels fell in the acceptable range. The California jury concluded that the company had been negligent in the design, manufacture or sale of the product, as well as a failure to warn consumers about the danger of asbestos contamination.
Colgate-Palmolive maintains that its products were and are safe. During trial, the company’s attorney apparently argued that other lawsuits like this one had failed.
FairWarning.org, “Colgate-Palmolive Suffers Courtroom Loss in Asbestos-Talc Powder Case,” Myron Levin, April 29, 2015
New Jersey Law Journal, “Landmark Asbestos Verdict Over Cosmetic Talc Survives Appeal,” Mary Pat Gallagher, March 27, 2015