McNeal v. Whittaker, Clark & DanielsAnnotate this Case
McNeal was exposed to asbestos from several sources. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017. The jury found his asbestos exposure included the use of Old Spice talcum powder on a daily basis, 1958-1980, except for one year while he was in Vietnam. Talc is a naturally occurring mineral with cosmetic uses. Asbestos, a known carcinogen when inhaled, is also a naturally occurring mineral. When talc is mined, it sometimes contains asbestos.
A jury awarded McNeal punitive damages. The defendant, the supplier of the talc in Old Spice that contained asbestos fiber, did not contest the finding it was negligent and otherwise responsible for McNeal's harm but argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish that any officer, director, or managing agent acted with the malice, oppression or fraud necessary for an award of punitive damages. The court of appeal agreed and reversed the award of punitive damages. The evidence does not show that defendant’s executives knew there were “probable dangerous consequences” from trace levels of asbestos in its talc, and deliberately did nothing to avoid them. It was not known until 1994 that the contamination of talc with trace amounts of asbestos could cause mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.