Court reverses Colgate-Palmolive's summary judgment in talcum powder asbestos case

By Sara McCleary | Nov 13, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – In a decision filed Oct. 19, California’s 1st District Court of Appeals, Third Division, reversed a trial court’s summary judgment that ruled in favor of Colgate-Palmolive Co., the defendant in a case alleging the company’s products caused the plaintiff’s health problems.

Plaintiff Mary Lyons alleges that her frequent use of Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder for approximately 20 years exposed her to asbestos and caused her to develop mesothelioma. 

The trial court however, granted Colgate summary judgment, ruling that Lyons had “failed to submit evidence to create a triable issue whether she was exposed to asbestos-containing products or materials attributable to defendant,” according to the appellate court’s opinion, written by Acting Presiding Justice Stuart R. Pollak.

The appeals court found that summary judgment should not have been granted because there is, in fact, ample evidence in the record to create a triable issue concerning Lyon’s exposure to asbestos in Colgate’s product.

The appellate court also rejected the cases cited by Colgate and accepted by the trial court in favor of summary judgment, noting that they are “readily distinguishable” from the case at hand. 

In the cases used by Colgate and referenced in Pollak’s opinion, the plaintiffs failed to clearly demonstrate they had been exposed to asbestos or asbestos-containing products, but here, “there is no question that plaintiff was exposed to the product alleged to contain the asbestos.” Rather, the case hinges on the question of whether or not the product did, in fact, contain asbestos.

According to Pollak’s opinion, Colgate did submit expert testimony that the product in question contained no asbestos, but the court maintained that the plaintiff had submitted sufficient evidence to the contrary, including a nearly 800-page declaration from a scientific expert, to preclude a summary judgment. 

“Because plaintiff has produced evidence creating a triable issue of fact on the critical issue disputed by Colgate, summary judgment should not have been granted,” wrote Pollak.

Pollak, with Justices Peter J. Siggins and Martin J. Jenkins concurring, reversed the judgment and remanded the case.

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