Cancerous Talc Powder Spurs $18M Jury Verdict
LOS ANGELES (CN) - A California jury has awarded $18.07 million to an aide of former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who was diagnosed with aggressive cancer after exposure to asbestos in cosmetic talc which is commonly used in baby powder.
After a six-week trial, a 12-person jury delivered the verdict against talc supplier Whittaker Clark & Daniels on Oct. 19, finding it 30 percent at fault. Superior Court Judge Charles Palmer dismissed the jury on Thursday after the parties reached a confidential settlement before the punitive damages phase.
Philip Depoian, 68, of West Hills, California, said he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in May 2015. He blamed his condition on exposure to asbestos over several decades beginning in 1948 when he visited his father's barber shop in Pasadena for haircuts as a child. Depoian had worked as an aide to Tom Bradley, the former mayor of Los Angeles.
According to his trial lawyers, the jury's verdict is the largest awarded for in a cosmetic talc-related mesothelioma lawsuit.
Depoian's attorney Jay Stuemke, of the firm Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, said he was pleased with the verdict and his client was "thrilled."
"The jury awarded $3 million more than we even asked for, and I think that reflected the level of anger that they felt toward the defendant and their conduct in this case," Steumke said in a phone interview Friday.
Depoian is a retired political operative who worked on several campaigns and as Bradley's assistant for 20 years. His cancer is at the advanced stage. He has undergone 30 rounds of chemotherapy and is taking part in a clinical trial at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, his attorney said.
"He is very upset by the fact that this talc can cause this devastating disease and nobody has any idea. It's a very underappreciated risk and he felt that if by pursuing this on behalf of himself and his family he could also do good for the public," Stuemke said.
Depoian filed his personal injury lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court in January, claiming he was exposed to asbestos or products that contained asbestos from about 1948 to 1993. Depoian said he used several products including Old Spice, Clubman, Kings Men and Mennen Shave Talc.
A hydrous magnesium silicate, talc is a natural mineral that is part of cosmetics, food, gums, and tablets. According to the Food and Drug Administration, asbestos can be found in close proximity to talc during mining.
The FDA conducted a survey of four talc suppliers and analysis of various products including eye shadow, blush, foundation, face powder, and body powder in 2009 and 2010, but found no asbestos contamination.
The agency acknowledged, however, that five of the nine suppliers it contacted declined to provide samples and that the products it tested were limited.
"For these reasons, while FDA finds these results informative, they do not prove that most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products currently marketed in the United States are likely to be free of asbestos contamination. As always, when potential public health concerns are raised, we will continue to monitor for new information and take appropriate actions to protect the public health," the FDA states on its website.
Stuemke said that since the mid-1970s, companies have taken action to reduce asbestos contamination but that some products still contain the toxic mineral.
"Our experts have tested talcum powders that are coming off the shelf today and found asbestos fibers present in them. The reasons for that is that there still is not an adequate testing methodology that's been designed that can really assure the public there talcum powders do not have asbestos in them," Stuemke said.
The jury deliberated for one day before delivering the verdict, according to court records. It found that Whittaker, Clark & Daniels marketed its talc as asbestos free without conducting proper testing.
Clubman Talc maker American International Industries was found 10 percent at fault, Colgate-Palmolive as successor to Men Shave Talc 10 percent at fault, Cyprus Amax Minerals 40 percent at fault, and Old Spice talc maker Shutlon 10 percent at fault.
According to a news release, the parties reached a confidential settlement Oct. 26 before the punitive damages phase of the trial.
Gregory Keating, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Southern California, said the verdict makes "your eyes kind of pop," but guessed the company settled to avoid another big award.
"You don't stipulate to a big compensatory damage verdict like this unless you think you are avoiding a serious punitive damage verdict possibility," Keating said in a phone interview.
Whittaker Clark & Daniels was the only named defendant by the end of the trial.
Depoian's complaint originally named American International Industries; Brenntag North America; Brenntag Specialties; Calaveras Asbestos; Colgate-Palmolive; Cyprus Amax Minerals; Dana Classic Fragrances; Georgia-Pacific; Helen of Troy; Kaiser Gypsum; Metropolitan Life Insurance; Pfizer; Procter & Gamble; Shulton; Soco-West; Unilever United States; Union Carbide; Whittaker Clark & Daniels; Wyeth Holdings.