CVN screenshot of defense attorney Robert Thackston delivering his opening statement. Click here for video of the full trial.
New Brunswick, NJ - The latest cosmetic talc trial in New Jersey state court got underway Thursday, with two plaintiffs blaming exposure to allegedly asbestos-containing cosmetic talc products in a barbershop for their fatal cancer.
Plaintiffs Margaret Lashley and Dwayne Johnson claim they were exposed to asbestos supposedly president in Clubman brand talc products over a period of more than 40 years. They both accuse Clubman’s parent company, American International Industries, of failing to warn consumers about the alleged dangers of talc products despite knowing the potential presence of asbestos posed a serious health risk.
AII argues Lashley and Johnson’s illness has no connection to Clubman talc, claiming Lashley’s mesothelioma is spontaneously occurring and that Johnson suffers from a different type of cancer altogether not linked to asbestos exposure.
The full trial is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
The trial marks just the second time a jury has simultaneously heard consolidated claims from multiple plaintiffs involving alleged talc-related mesothelioma. The first such trial, which also took place in New Jersey, ended last month with a massive $750 million punitive damage award against Johnson & Johnson.
The Lashley/Johnson matter is also the first cosmetic talc trial in New Jersey to not involve Johnson & Johnson or Colgate-Palmolive as a defendant. Colgate was initially listed as a defendant in Lashley’s and Johnson’s complaints, but the company resolved its claims with the plaintiffs before the trial began.
Lashley claims her exposure occurred throughout more than 40 years of working as a hairdresser, and Johnson alleges his exposure occurred during 40 years of inhaling talc powder while visiting his barbershop.
Both specifically cite exposure to Clubman brand cosmetic talc, which AII purchased in 1987 from the Neslemur Company. AII, a general partnership that has over 45 different brands of personal care products, allegedly never performed their own internal testing for asbestos of any products they acquired and instead relied on analysis from talc suppliers.
Clubman switched to cornstarch-based products in 2017, but attorney Joseph Mandia of Simon Greenstone Panatier PC, who represents Lashley and Johnson, told jurors that change took place too late to help his clients.
“Customers and users of the product like Lashley and Johnson would have had no reason to suspect there was any asbestos in the Clubman talc products,” he said.
Mandia told jurors that tests of Lashley’s Clubman talc containers and a brush she used frequently both tested positive for asbestos. He did not ask for a specific amount of damages during his opening statement but stressed to jurors that mesothelioma would eventually claim the lives of both of his clients.
Representing AII, Robert Thackston of Lathrop GPM told jurors during his opening statement that there was no link between talc exposure and mesothelioma.
Thackston argued that talc miners are exposed to vastly greater amounts of the mineral than consumers using cosmetic products, and that no evidence exists to show those miners developed mesothelioma at a greater rate than the general population.
“If talc was all contaminated with asbestos the people digging it out of the ground would be the first to get sick,” he said.
Thackston also told jurors that neither Lashley’s nor Johnson’s initial treating physicians thought they had asbestos-related mesothelioma.
He said a doctor at Wake Forrest University who initially treated Lashley stated he didn’t believe her mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure, and he described how Johnson’s doctor diagnosed him with a lung cancer that went into remission after radiation treatment - an outcome he suggested would be unlikely with a mesothelioma diagnosis.
In addition to Thackston, AII is also represented by Roy Viola of Hawkins Parnell & Young.
The trial is taking place before Judge Ana Viscomi, who presided over all of the previous cosmetic talc trials in New Jersey to date, many of which are available with a CVN video library subscription.
The combined cases are captioned Dwayne Johnson v. American International Industries et al. case number L-6651-16 and Lashley v. American International Industries, et al. case number L-7336-16 in Middlesex County Superior Court, New Jersey.
E-mail David Siegel at email@example.com