Cosmetic Talc Manufacturer Denied Motion for Summary Judgment Regarding Punitive Damages

Jurisdiction: Supreme Court of New York, New York County; October 5, 2023

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging her asbestos-related disease was caused by her use of talcum powder products manufactured by, among others, Chanel. In the motion, Chanel moved to dismiss plaintiff’s punitive damages claim on the basis that Chanel did not exhibit the “level of malice and near criminal reckless disregard” necessary to justify such damages. Plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that Chanel was aware of the presence of asbestos in its talc and the negative impacts of asbestos as early as the 1970s, yet continued to use asbestos-containing talc in its products for more than 20 years after.

Summary judgment is a drastic remedy and should only be granted if the moving party has sufficiently established that it is warranted as a matter of law. See Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324, 501 N.E.2d 572, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 (1986). “The proponent of a summary judgment motion must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to eliminate any material issues of fact from the case”. Winegrad v New York University Medical Center, 64 NY2d 851, 853, 476 N.E.2d 642, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316 (1985). Despite the sufficiency of the opposing papers, the failure to make such a showing requires denial of the motion. See id. at 853. Additionally, summary judgment motions should be denied if the opposing party presents admissible evidence establishing that there is a genuine issue of fact remaining. See Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 560, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595 (1980). “In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the motion court should draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party and should not pass on issues of credibility.”

In its motion, Chanel argued that it was never put on notice that the talc used in their products contained asbestos, but the court found that this was not enough to succeed on the motion. Specifically, the court noted that Chanel did not provide any evidence that dispels with certainty questions of fact regarding level of recklessness or wanton disregard regarding asbestos in its talc. On the contrary, plaintiff submitted numerous documents indicating that Chanel was aware of the contamination in its talc in the 1970s but continued to use the same talc in its products for at least two decades without warning the public.

Therefore, the court found a factual question exists regarding punitive damages that is best resolved by a jury and denied Chanel’s motion.

Read the full decision here.