Asbestos-Contaminated Talc Central to Old Spice Mesothelioma Lawsuit

Legislation & Litigation
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Willie McNeal Jr., a Vietnam War veteran and retired school bus driver, was awarded $4.8 million by a California Superior Court jury that determined asbestos-contaminated talc led to his diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, a longtime talc supplier now based in South Plainfield, New Jersey, was ordered to pay McNeal $1.8 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages.

The verdict stemmed from evidence presented that an Old Spice powder product, used almost daily by McNeal for more than 20 years, contained talc from a mine in North Carolina known to be contaminated by toxic asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that can cause mesothelioma cancer.

Old Spice is a registered trademark of Procter & Gamble, which discontinued the powder product many years ago.

McNeal, 78, was diagnosed in 2017, a year before his case was filed against more than a dozen defendants.

According to court records, Johnson & Johnson, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Pep Boys and AutoZone Inc. also were named as contributors to his cancer diagnosis. All but Whittaker, Clark & Daniels settled before the trial began in April.

Whittaker, Clark & Daniels has been a major talc supplier for several companies, including Revlon, Avon and Chanel.

The talc company settled a similar case recently with a California woman who said her mesothelioma was caused by contaminated talc. The undisclosed settlement came four days after proceedings began at the same California Superior Court, and only a week after McNeal’s trial had concluded.

Nonoccupational Asbestos Exposure Growing

Whittaker, Clark & Daniels continues to insist that its talc is safe and does not cause cancer, but it has been battling the accusations by mesothelioma patients since 2015.

The first case against the company involved a New York woman who was awarded $7 million when it was ruled that asbestos-contaminated talc in Desert Flower powder led to her mesothelioma.

In 2016, the talc used in a barber shop resulted in a record-setting $18 million verdict against Whittaker, Clark & Daniels after the son of a barber there was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Although the majority of contaminated talc cases involve ovarian cancer, the number of mesothelioma cases has grown significantly in the past few years.

According to KCIC, a well-respected consulting firm that manages asbestos product liabilities, there has been a steady decline in traditional mesothelioma lawsuits stemming from occupational exposure to asbestos in the past three years. However, there also has been a rise in cases involving talc and nonoccupational exposure to asbestos during the same time period.

Nonoccupational exposure cases have gone from 33% to 45% for men and from 46% to 57% for women.

The issue of contaminated talc, considered the world’s softest mineral, stems from where it is mined near the Earth’s surface. Talc and asbestos deposits often are found in close proximity.

Talc Litigation Becoming More Common

The regularity of mesothelioma lawsuits involving talc is expected to continue increasing in the coming months throughout the country, particularly where the COVID-19 pandemic had created a major backlog of civil litigation.

Another talc jury trial involving cosmetic talc and mesothelioma opened May 5, one of the first in Washington state since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown a year ago. In the opening statements, attorneys for the plaintiff blamed the use of Johnson’s Baby Powder for the mesothelioma cancer.

Johnson & Johnson has said it is facing more than 25,000 lawsuits related to its various talc products that have allegedly caused cancers, primarily due to asbestos contamination.

According to regulatory filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Johnson & Johnson has set aside almost $4 billion for talc-related litigation.

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