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South Carolina Jury Awards Female Mesothelioma Claimant $29M in Cosmetic Talc Verdict

Posted on March 06, 2023

A Richland County, South Carolina jury awarded plaintiff Sarah Plant $29.14 million in damages for Plant’s diagnosis of mesothelioma stemming from her use of cosmetic talc products. The jury found talc supplier Whittaker Clark & Daniels (WCD) liable for Plant’s injuries and exonerated talc manufacturer IMI Fabi SPA.

The jury awarded Plant $20 million for pain and suffering, $5 million for her husband’s loss of consortium claims, $871,356 in past medical expenses and $3,268,336 in future medical expenses. WCD has filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and have moved for a new trial if its JNOV motion is denied.

Plant, 34 years old when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, alleged direct and secondary exposure to “asbestos-containing” cosmetic talc products as an infant and adult. Plant sued several talc-related companies including Colgate-Palmolive Products, Avon Products, Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Mary Kay Inc., and Color Techniques Inc. According to Courtroom View Network (CVN), Mary Kay and Color Techniques were involved in the trial but reached confidential settlements with Plant prior to jury deliberations.

At trial, the defendants argued that plaintiff experts ignored scientific studies disproving an association between talc and cancer, noting that several studies involving talc miners did not show any increased cancer risk. The defendants also argued that Plant could not prove that the products she used actually contained asbestos. WCD additionally argued that Plant could not definitely prove that the company had suppled talc to any of the manufacturers of products she was allegedly exposed to during her life.

In its motion for JNOV or alternatively a new trial, WCD argued that the judge in the case, former Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court Jean Toal, committed several errors that improperly shifted the burden of proof to WCD.

According to WCD’s JNOV motion, “A cascade of errors by this Court – all of which fell in Plaintiffs’ favor – deprived WCD of a fair trial. Such errors began at the hearing on pre-trial motions and continued throughout the trial. At the pre-trial hearing held on February 15, 2023, this Court ruled it would allow Plaintiffs’ experts to testify about general and specific causation while tying WCD’s hands behind its back – improperly excluding WCD’s primary medical expert purportedly on competency grounds (Dr. Attanoos) and then further prohibiting all other experts from offering specific causation opinions (Dr. Feingold, Dr. Diette, and Dr. Weill). The result was to shift impermissibly the burden of proof to WCD to prove that the cosmetic talc it allegedly distributed did not cause Mrs. Plant’s disease.

Post-trial, WCD argued that Judge Toal improperly instructed the jury and allowed a plaintiff motion to appoint a receiver in South Carolina over WCD despite WCD’s status as a viable corporation organized in New Jersey and conducting its principal place of business in Connecticut.

The case is Sarah Plant v. Avon Products Inc., et al., Case No. 2022CP4001265.

WCD’s JNOV motion can be found here.