A Los Angeles County jury has ordered a talc supplier to pay $4.8 million to a Vietnam veteran diagnosed with a rare and particularly fatal form of cancer, known as pleural mesothelioma, which developed after years of exposure to asbestos particles in Old Spice Talcum Powder products.
The case was brought by 78 year-old Willie McNeal, Jr., who indicated he used the talc-based powder for more than 20 years, unaware that the ingredients were laced with toxic asbestos, which is the only known cause of mesothelioma.
The talc came from Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, according to the lawsuit originally filed in 2018, which was once one of the largest talc suppliers in the country. McNeal alleged at trial that the company knew there was asbestos in its talc, but it failed to warn about the health risks that consumers may face.
On April 16, a jury in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County ruled in favor of McNeal, and awarded millions in damages, mirroring similar verdicts awarded in other claims filed against talc manufacturers in recent years by individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma, as well as women diagnosed with ovarian cancer following years of applying talcum powder products around the genitals.
The trial was the first civil verdict handed down in the court since early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic derailed court cases across the nation.
The verdict joins a number of similar conclusions reached by juries nationwide in recent years, particularly in California. Another trial held in California in 2019 resulted in a $12 million verdict for a woman who says she developed mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos-laced talc in Johnson’s Baby Powder, Shower-to-Shower and Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet products.
In 2018, yet another California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $25.7 million due to mesothelioma following years of Johnson’s Baby Powder use, and yet another California jury ordered Imerys Talc American and Vanderbilt Minerals to pay $22.17 million in 2017 to the family of a man who died of mesothelioma due to exposure to allegedly contaminated talcum powder at his jobs at paint and chemical companies.
Mesothelioma typically takes decades after exposure to asbestos before the cancer is diagnosed, by which time it is typically at a very advanced and difficult to treat state. As a result, the cancer is typically at a very advanced and untreatable stage, leading to a short life-expectancy.
The risks associated with asbestos have been known for about a century, although they did not get widely publicized the mid 1960s. As a result, most modern, first-world countries banned asbestos use in its entirety decades ago. But not the United States.
While most uses were banned in this country, there is still about 750 metric tons of asbestos used in the U.S. every year. In recent years it has been discovered that any popular talc powder products have been sold with dangerous traces of asbestos contained in the products.
There are currently about 25,000 Johnson’s Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson in the federal court system, mostly involving women left with ovarian cancer after years of exposure to the products for feminine hygiene.
The federal litigation is currently pending in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in New Jersey, where the manufacturer is expected to face a series of “bellwether” trials in coming years, unless talcum powder settlements are reached to resolve large numbers of claims or the manufacturer is able to establish that it can consistently defend the safety of its product before juries.