judge's gavel and books

Talc Defendant Denied Summary Judgment and Summary Adjudication

Court: Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles

In this action, defendant Vanderbilt Materials LLC moved for summary judgment of the plaintiffs’ claim that plaintiff Roberto Gonzalez was exposed to asbestos in the defendant’s talc. Ultimately, the court denied the motion.

Under California law, “[a] defendant seeking summary judgment must conclusively negate a necessary element of the plaintiff’s case, or demonstrate that under no hypothesis is there a material issue of fact that requires the process of trial.” In response to a special interrogatory served by the defendant, plaintiffs set forth that Gonzalez and his wife used talcum powders, which they believe contained defendant’s talc. After defendant asked the plaintiffs to describe the products which contained talc from defendant, plaintiffs cited to their Exposure History Sheet, which referenced certain products. The court determined that “these interrogatory responses contend, without citing any evidence, that Defendant supplied asbestos for use in unspecified talcum powder products and Donald Durham Rock Hard putty.” 

In opposition, plaintiffs pointed to Gonzalez’s wife testimony that he used Donald Durham Rock Hard putty. Plaintiffs also pointed to the testimony of their expert that the aforementioned putty contained asbestos, as well as the evidence that defendant exclusively supplied talc for the putty. Therefore, the court denied this motion after determining that “Plaintiffs showed the existence of a disputed issue regarding the presence of asbestos-containing talc from Defendant in Donald Durham Rock Hard putty.”

Defendant also moved for summary adjudication of the punitive damages claim. Under California law:

“[p]unitive damages may be available when a defendant knows the dangers of asbestos, took action to protect its own employees from the hazard, knew that its products were likely to pose a danger to users, and did not warn them . . . Such evidence was sufficient to show malice, that is, despicable conduct coupled with conscious disregard for the safety of others . . . On the other hand, a defendant’s knowledge of trace amounts of asbestos in talc does not necessarily mean that the defendant knew the asbestos in talc would cause of high probability of injury… There must be evidence of knowledge that exposure to talcum powder could cause mesothelioma” (citations omitted).

Here, plaintiffs were unable to produce any documents following defendant’s request for all documents supporting the claim for punitive damages. However, not having the documents at this juncture was not fatal to plaintiffs’ claim as the court noted that plaintiffs can obtain evidence by seeking documents and taking documents. The court further stated that “it is more likely that Defendant, rather than Plaintiffs, have such documents showing Defendant’s internal communications, knowledge and decision-making.”

Therefore, the court denied the motion.

Read the full decision here.