Is Talc the New Asbestos?

By Dominica C. Anderson and Lauren M. Case

Significantly, this year multiple large verdicts have been awarded against companies making and selling talcum products in cases where plaintiffs allege related cancer following use of talcum powder products.

Most recently, on October 27 a Missouri jury awarded a woman who developed ovarian cancer more than $70 million in compensatory and punitive damage related to her prolonged use of talcum powder made and sold by Johnson & Johnson, and Imerys Talc America Inc., which mines the talc.  (Deborah Giannecchini v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., No. 14422-CC09012-01, Mo. 22nd Jud. Cir.)  The damages award follows two separate verdicts against Johnson & Johnson this year in the same Missouri court of $72 million and $55 million.

Additionally, in California just last month, following a six-week jury trial, a Los Angeles jury returned a $18.07 million verdict against talc supplier Whittaker Clark & Daniels for its alleged role in causing California political figure, Philip Depoian’s, mesothelioma.  (Philip John depoian and Julie Pastor Depoian vs. American International Industries, et al., Los Angeles Superior Court, No. BC607192.)  Mesothelioma is a form of cancer primarily associated with work place exposure to asbestos.   Depoian’s attorneys argued that Depoian was exposed to asbestos in talc products at a barber shop where his father worked, and through his own use of products including Old Spice, Clubman, Kings Men, and Mennen Shave Talc.  Asbestos and talc are natural silicate minerals often mined in the same deposits.  The parties reached a confidential settlement on October 26, 2016 before the second phase for punitive damages was set to resume.

With many new cases filed in 2016, talc litigation is on the rise. 2016 saw so many new talc-related actions filed in the district courts that last month, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation filed a transfer order to centralize pretrial proceedings in 11 actions in the district courts to the District of New Jersey.  (In re: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2738, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138403 (J.P.M.L. October 5, 2016.)  The Panel noted that it was aware of forty-three potential “tag-along” actions pending in twenty-three districts.  All but three of the 54 total actions (transferred actions and the potential tag-along actions) were filed in 2016.

All of the actions share common factual questions arising out of the allegations that use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products can cause ovarian or uterine cancer in women.  The majority of the actions filed to date are personal injury or wrongful death actions.  Two actions are consumer class actions brought on behalf of putative classes of women who allege defendants deceptively marketed talcum powder products for use without disclosing talc’s carcinogenic properties.

With these significant filings and verdicts, will coverage litigation follow?  Will Talc be the new asbestos??

Parent of Insured Corporation Has No Standing to Seek Declaratory Relief as to Insured’s Coverage

Does the parent and controlling shareholder of an insured corporation have standing to seek declaratory relief as to the insured’s insurance coverage? Under California law, the answer is no. In a March 30, 2016 decision, ordered published April 28, 2016, Division Two of the California Court of Appeal for the First District held that a parent corporation that is not an insured under the insurance contract is not a “person interested under a written instrument” for purposes of California’s declaratory relief statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 1060. (See D. Cummins Corp. v. Untied States Fid. and Guar. Co., __Cal.App.4th__ (Cal. Court of Appeal, First Dist. No. A142985, 4/28/2016).)

The Holding Company in the case was the controlling owner of an insured facing asbestos claims, but the Holding Company was not an additional insured or otherwise in privity with the insurer. Nonetheless, the Holding Company argued it had a “practical interest in the proper interpretation of Cummins Corp.’s insurance policies given its relationship to, and its central role in the pursuit of those insurance assets.” (Slip Opn. p. 7.) The Court of Appeal found the argument “not persuasive.” (Id.) “While Holding Co. may, as it says, have a ‘practical interest’ in the success of Cummins Corp.’s litigation with the insurers by virtue of its relationship with the corporation, it has not shown how that indirect interest—no matter how enthusiastic it may be [citation omitted]—translates into ‘a legally cognizable theory of declaratory relief.’” (Id.) It is only the insured itself that has “a direct interest in the interpretation of the policies in question” for purposes of Section 1060. (Id.)

California Supreme Court Issues Fluor Decision, Reverses Henkel Anti-Assignment Rule

Today the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Fluor Corporation v. Superior Court. In a unanimous decision, authored by the Chief Justice, the Court rejected the enforceability of “consent to assignment” clauses as a bar to coverage when the loss pre-dates the assignment, based on California Insurance Code section 520, and overruled its prior decision in Henkel Corp. v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 934.

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The Illinois Duty to Defend: Litigation Insurance against Groundless Suits Even When Extrinsic Facts Known to Both Insurer and Insured Would Otherwise Abrogate Coverage

On January 13, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court issued its opinion in Illinois Tool Works, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Co., 2015 IL App. (1st) 132350 (1st Dist. 2015), wherein the court held the insurer had a duty to defend its insured against numerous vaguely pleaded toxic tort complaints. The central issue in Illinois Tool Works was whether facts extrinsic to the underlying complaint, known to both the insurer and insured, can abrogate the duty to defend. The Illinois Appellate Court held that undisputed extrinsic facts not pleaded in the underlying complaint cannot relieve an insurer of its duty to defend unless and until proven in the underlying action. Continue reading “The Illinois Duty to Defend: Litigation Insurance against Groundless Suits Even When Extrinsic Facts Known to Both Insurer and Insured Would Otherwise Abrogate Coverage”

San Francisco Trial Court Is First California Court To Adopt The Wallace & Gale Approach To Asbestos Operations Claims

In what is the first trial court ruling in California on the issue, to our knowledge, the San Francisco Superior Court on January 31, 2013 issued a ruling adopting the Wallace & Gale approach to the completed operations issue for asbestos claims. The decision was issued by San Francisco Superior Court Judge John E. Munter in Phase III of Plant Insulation Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., et al., a multi-phase declaratory relief action pending in San Francisco.

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Was The Wallace & Gale Holding Rejected In The API Case?

Some policyholders cite the Minnesota trial court decision in St. Paul Fire and Marine vs. A.P.I. Inc. (Minn. Dist. Court, Ramsey County, No. C9-02-8084, J. Finley Order dated May 13, 2004) as rejecting the Fourth Circuit’s holding in In re Wallace & Gale Co., 385 F.3d 820 (4th Cir. 2004). The argument is incorrect for several reasons.

First, Judge Finley’s May 2004 decision in API did not even address the core holding in Wallace & Gale but rather simply ruled on the burden of proof issue, concluding that it was insurers’ burden to prove that the claims fell within the completed operations hazard. Continue reading “Was The Wallace & Gale Holding Rejected In The API Case?”

California Asbestos Defendants Are On A Roll In The Appellate Courts

It’s been a very good few weeks in the California appellate courts for asbestos defendants and perhaps the beginning of a broader trend towards leveling the playing field in the unrelenting asbestos litigation that continues to overwhelm California courts.

On May 21, 2012, the Second District, Division Seven, issued a decision in Campbell v. Ford Motor Company (No. B221322) holding that a premises owner and employer owes no duty to protect family members of employees from secondary exposure to asbestos used during the course of the employer’s business – a new bright line rule that should significantly limit take-home exposure liability in California.

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Do Asbestos Rip-Out Claims And The “Abandoned Materials” Policy Exception Neutralize The Impact of the Completed Operations Aggregate?

In an effort to avoid the impact of the completed operations aggregate limit, policyholder counsel sometimes attempt to characterize claims as (1) rip-out exposures, or (2) as relating to “abandoned or unused materials,” so as to come within a common insurance policy carve-out from the Completed Operations Hazard. Both arguments are a stretch.

Continue reading “Do Asbestos Rip-Out Claims And The “Abandoned Materials” Policy Exception Neutralize The Impact of the Completed Operations Aggregate?”

“Every Breath” of Asbestos Is Not a Substantial Factor in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously found that plaintiffs cannot rely on the theory that “every breath” is a substantial contributing factor in causing an asbestos-related disease in an asbestos case involving friction exposures, i.e., brakes and clutches. The May 23, 2012, ruling in Diana K. Betz v. Pneumo Abex LLC (“Simikian”) overturns the en banc decision of the state Superior Court, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found to be based on an “unduly cramped perspective.” This decision changes the face of asbestos litigation in Pennsylvania and may have farther-reaching impact. Plaintiffs can no longer lump together exposures and say all exposures contributed to disease. This brings asbestos litigation in line with the mainstream causation requirements for other substances—plaintiffs must be able to prove that each product was a substantial factor in their disease. (Note: Duane Morris represented defendant Ford in this case.)

To read the rest of this alert, please visit the Duane Morris website.

Do All CGL Policies State Aggregate Limits Only For Products and Completed Operations Hazards?

Not all policies state aggregate limits only for the Products and Completed Operations hazards. Some provide a total limit of liability. For example, many umbrella policies use the following Limits of Liability wording:

The limit of the company’s liability shall not exceed the amount stated in Item 2(a) of the declarations as a result of any one occurrence. The company’s liability shall be further limited to the amount stated in item 2(b) of the declarations in the aggregate for each annual period during the currency of this policy separately in respect of (1) the products hazard; (2) the completed operations hazard; and (3) personal injury by occupational disease sustained by any employees of the insured;

Continue reading “Do All CGL Policies State Aggregate Limits Only For Products and Completed Operations Hazards?”

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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