A California jury has ordered cosmetics giant Avon and a forklift manufacturing company to pay $52.1 million in damages in one of the latest lawsuits linking asbestos exposure to mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the tissue that lines the body’s internal organs. According to allegations raised in the mesothelioma lawsuit, plaintiff Rita-Ann Chapman’s cancer was a result of exposure to asbestos both in Avon cosmetic products, which she used throughout most of her life, and on her husband’s work clothing, which he wore while handling asbestos-lined brakes, gaskets, and clutches at Hyster, a company that manufactured forklifts. The combined verdict includes $40.8 million in actual damages and $11.3 million in punitive damages.
Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and IARC states that there is sufficient evidence that asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, stomach, and other organs. In fact, it is widely believed that most cases of mesothelioma are due to asbestos exposure. And while primary exposure is the most well-known type of asbestos exposure, repeated, long-term secondary exposure, also known as household exposure, can be just as dangerous, carrying the same risk of adverse health effects, including mesothelioma. Sadly, because the latency period for mesothelioma is so long – often between 20 and 60 years after asbestos exposure – mesothelioma is typically in its later stages when symptoms finally emerge.
Chapman claims in her asbestos mesothelioma lawsuit that a cause of her cancer was Avon cosmetics, specifically the company’s talc-based face and body powders, which she reportedly began using at age eight. Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, and because of its ability to absorb moisture and prevent caking, it has been used in many cosmetics and other personal care products. However, because talc is often mined in close proximity to asbestos, another naturally occurring mineral, and a known carcinogen, many talc-based cosmetic products have been found to be contaminated with asbestos fibers. In September 2018, amid growing concerns about asbestos exposure from talc-based products, like Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, the FDA began testing for the presence of asbestos in samples of popular cosmetics that contain talc as an ingredient. According to their initial findings, nine out of the 52 cosmetics products (17%) that were sampled tested positive for asbestos.
Although much of the asbestos litigation in the past has focused on occupational asbestos exposure among construction workers, factory workers, and other blue-collar workers, an equally dangerous risk is secondary asbestos exposure, which can occur when women, children, and others who do not work directly with asbestos are nevertheless exposed to fibers that are brought home on the clothing of family members who work with or around asbestos. Ms. Chapman claims in her lawsuit that she experienced additional asbestos exposure from washing her husband’s work clothes. Her husband, Gary Chapman, reportedly worked for Hyster, a company that made forklifts, and while at work, he routinely handled asbestos-lined brakes, clutches, and gaskets, and was around others working with those products.
During the course of the Chapmans’ trial, the jury was presented with evidence indicating not only that Avon knew the talc in its products posed a potential health risk and failed to warn consumers, but that the company was selling off stocks of powders it discovered had high levels of asbestos during the time Chapman was using them. Hyster was accused of selling asbestos-containing parts until 2003, lying about when the company first became aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure, and removing asbestos warnings from products before selling them to the public. In delivering their verdict, the jury found Avon Products, Inc. 90% responsible for Chapman’s cancer, and Hyster-Yale Group, Inc. 10% responsible, for a cumulative damages award of $40.8 million. The jury also assessed a $10.3 million punitive damages award against Avon, plus another $1 million against Hyster.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or another serious health condition you believe to be linked to asbestos exposure, contact Consumer Safety Watch as soon as possible. You may be able to pursue damages for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other injuries and losses.