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Litigation Update: Talc Lawsuits Developments for Chanel, L’Oreal and Imerys

Litigation Update: Talc Lawsuits Developments for Chanel, L’Oreal and Imerys

In the wake of lawsuits filed against Chanel and other manufacturers and sellers, linking cancer to their talc products, the company, along with cosmetic giants Revlon and L’Oreal are considering alternatives to talc in some of their products.  Chanel has removed talc from a loose face powder and discontinued its talc body powder.  Revlon has removed talc from its body products and L’Oreal SA is considering alternatives to talc.  There have also been thousands of lawsuits filed against industry leader, Johnson & Johnson alleging its flagship baby powder and Shower to Shower products cause cancer.

Chanel was first named as a defendant in a lawsuit involving its talc body product in 2017 in California state court. That case, brought by Carolyn Weirick, alleged that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was caused by her exposure to Chanel’s No. 5 After Bath Powder, as well as Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder and Shower to Shower product.  Weirick’s initial case resulted in a hung jury and her new trial, held in October, 2019, resulted in a defense verdict for the defendant, J&J.  Chanel was again named in a lawsuit in Oregon which resulted in a defense verdict in September, 2018 for the company after they argued that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was the result of “spontaneous etiology”.  The latest suit has been filed in New York state court by Dolores Gomez who claims that her mesothelioma was caused by her use of Chanel talc products for more than 30 years.  In her complaint, Gomez states that Chanel and sellers, Publix and Woolworth (n/k/a Foot Locker. Inc.) knew that there was asbestos in the talc products but failed to warn the public. Ms. Gomez also points out that there are still no warnings on the product.  Efforts in the past to investigate the need for warning labels on cosmetic talc products have been blocked by the Cosmetics Toiletries and Fragrance Association (n/k/a the Personal Care Products Council), an industry-lobbying group.

In another story on the ongoing talc litigation, Imerys SA, the sole entity responsible for mining the talc used in J&J’s baby powder, has agreed to turn over its North American operations to be sold at auction to fund a trust dedicated to compensating victims of its talc products. Imerys Talc America Inc. had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February, 2019.  The units to be sold include Imerys Talc America, Imerys Talc Vermont and Imerys Talc Canada.  The trust will be funded by the proceeds of the sale and $75 million to be provided by parent company Imerys SA as well as an additional amount up to $102.5 million. The units for sale also produced talc used in other industries including plastic, rubber, paints, ceramics and paper.  In return, 14,650 plaintiffs, suffering primarily from mesothelioma and ovarian cancer, have agreed to drop their lawsuits, which would allow the company to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The plan also addresses future claims and has appointed a futures claim representative, James Patton.  Imerys and J&J have faced lawsuits over their talc products since 2014 and the talc supplier found itself overwhelmed by the wave of litigation. The deal will end six years of litigation for Imerys. One outstanding issue to be decided is whether J&J has indemnification obligations to contribute to the trust to compensate baby powder users who developed ovarian cancer.

Imerys is hopeful that the plan will be confirmed by October, 2020 which would allow the company to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of the year.

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