Avon Hit With $52.1M Verdict for Asbestos-Contaminated Talc

Legislation & Litigation

A California jury awarded $52.1 million to an Arizona woman diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. The multimillion-dollar verdict combines damages against cosmetics giant Avon and a forklift manufacturer.

Attorneys for Rita-Ann Chapman said she had been using Avon talc products contaminated with asbestos for much of her life. Chapman is 76.

She blamed additional secondhand asbestos exposure on forklift maker Hyster Company. Her husband Gary handled asbestos products while working at Hyster.

Chapman won her case in California Superior Court earlier this month.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer. Inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers is the primary cause of the incurable condition.

Although occupational exposure once dominated asbestos litigation, the field is widely expanding today with the recent discovery of asbestos-contaminated talc products. Chapman’s combined award is a look at the future and past of asbestos litigation.

Avon Kept Asbestos Contamination Secret

Avon, famous for its door-to-door saleswomen known as “Avon Ladies,” sold a variety of cosmetics, including body and face powders.

Jurors concluded Avon management knew of the talc contamination but failed to warn consumers of the serious health risks, and deliberately kept them secret. Actual damages were listed at $40.8 million, with an additional $11.3 million in punitive damages. Jurors blamed Avon for 90% of Chapman’s cancer.

According to court records, Avon faced almost 200 talc lawsuits in 2021. Although the company has continued to say its products are safe, it announced in 2020 that it would stop using talc in its products.

Avon said it will appeal this latest verdict.

“We are disappointed by this verdict and will vigorously pursue all available avenues to appeal,” the company said in a statement. “Avon is confident that it has strong grounds for appeal and will continue to defend its position.”

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure at Hyster

The involvement of Hyster Company in the lawsuit stems from Chapman handling the work clothes of her husband, who worked at a Hyster forklift manufacturing plant.  

He worked with clutches, gaskets and brakes made with asbestos. The naturally occurring mineral strengthens products, but it is also carcinogenic.

Chapman’s husband often brought home the microscopic asbestos fibers on his clothes, which she would regularly wash.

Johnson & Johnson Leads Talc Lawsuits

The verdict against Avon was not a surprise as talc-related cases are becoming more common. Companies such as Chanel, Revlon, L’Oréal and Justice are facing litigation involving contaminated talc.

Johnson & Johnson, with its iconic baby powder, is the giant of the industry. It faces more than 30,000 lawsuits. Most cases involve ovarian cancer. Only a small percentage are mesothelioma legal claims.

The company already has spent more than $3 billion in settlements and verdicts. Johnson & Johnson created a new subsidiary in 2021 that immediately filed for bankruptcy protection to limit its future talc liabilities.

A federal judge in New Jersey approved the controversial strategy, but it’s now in federal appeals court.

J&J, a leader in the field, stopped the sale of its talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada in 2020, citing the avalanche of lawsuits.

Talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals. Asbestos veins often run through talc deposits, making contamination possible during the mining process.

Although testing for contamination has been done for years, different testing methods have produced varied results.

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