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Colgate-Palmolive was found to be 95% responsible for Santa Barbara resident Judith Winkel’s mesothelioma cancer and ordered to pay out $13 million, including $1.4 million to her husband, John Winkel, in damages for past medical bills, economic losses, pain, suffering, and reduced life expectancy.
Winkel was exposed to asbestos by the company’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder, which led to her development of mesothelioma. Talc is the softest of minerals and therefore often used in many cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and as a food additive. Settlements have been paid in the past to factory workers who used the talcum powder and contracted an asbestos-related sickness.
Winkel originally could not recall any obvious source for exposure to asbestos. Neither she nor any family member worked in a shipyard, no asbestos insulation was reported in her house, etc. The only possibility was this one Cashmere Bouquet type of talcum powder she had used from about 1961 to the mid-1970s.
Tests were performed on another talcum powder, using samples ranging from 50 years ago to those purchased within several years at various retailers. Characteristics of the asbestos fibers, chances of inhaling the fibers during application, and fibers in lung tissues were tested. All 50 came back positive.
The test samples contained asbestos fibers that can cause mesothelioma cancer. This is a rare, but deadly disease that occurs in the thin layer of cells lining the body’s internal organs. In most cases, mesothelioma symptoms will not appear in an individual exposed to asbestos until many years after the exposure has occurred.
“This is an example of the legal system exposing what a company should have been honest about 50 years ago,” said Winkel’s attorney. “Judith Winkel only wanted a jury to hear the truth about this product and hopefully to help others who are similarly exposed.”
The Food and Drug Administration said there has been concern about asbestos in talcum powder since the 1970s. Ovarian cancer may also be linked to talcum powder use. Colgate-Palmolive has been manufacturing it since 1995, but this is the first asbestos exposure-related verdict against the company.
After two hours of deliberation, jurors came to the conclusion that Colgate-Palmolive had been negligent in its design, manufacture, and sale of Cashmere Bouquet, failing to express the powder’s immense danger to users.
The Los Angeles Superior Court weighed in with allegations that, in past decades, the product came from known asbestos-contaminated mines in Montana, North Carolina, and Northern Italy.
“We believe that the facts and evidence presented at trial showed that Cashmere Bouquet played no part in causing the plaintiff’s illness,” stated Colgate-Palmolive.
“Colgate was disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” said company spokesman Tom DiPiazza.
“Cashmere Bouquet did not harm Mrs. Winkel,” said Colgate’s lawyer. “There was a ‘clear absence of proof’ connecting any disease to our product.”
A confidential settlement was agreed upon Wednesday between Winkel and the Colgate-Palmolive, but several other lawsuits are pending against the company in relation to Cashmere Bouquet.