Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood announces what they believe to be the first asbestos-containing industrial talc verdict in California against Vanderbilt Minerals, LLC and Imerys Talc America, Inc. The final punitive damages verdict occurred on Monday, December 11, 2017. Following a six week trial, on November 27, 2017, a jury in Oakland, CA found in Booker v. Vanderbilt Minerals, Case No. RG15796166, Superior Court of California, County of Alameda, that Vanderbilt and Imerys were negligent and strictly liable for the wrongful death of Richard Booker. In a bench trial, the trial court had previously held that Imerys was liable for the asbestos-containing talc sales of a predecessor entity, Cyprus Mines.
Additionally, the jury found that both Vanderbilt and Imerys had acted with malice, oppression and fraud. The jury awarded $17.5 million in compensatory damages to the Booker family, 60% allocated to Vanderbilt, and 40% allocated to Imerys. Vanderbilt settled with the Plaintiffs after the first phase of trial, and before the jury could assess punitive damages as to Vanderbilt. The jury awarded $4.6 million in punitive damages against Imerys.
Mr. Booker, who died at the age of 72 from a mesothelioma cancer, worked for decades as a paint tinter and mixer making paints. Lead trial attorney Joe Satterley said: “Vanderbilt and Imerys marketed their talc for over fifty years to the paint, ceramics, and cosmetic industries, but never disclosed that it contained asbestos. We were able to uncover their internal, confidential documents showing that they knew their talc contained asbestos, and yet sold it without any warnings. In fact, they did the opposite-they falsely assured their customers that their talc did not contain asbestos.” At trial, Mr. Satterley showed the jury that medical doctors had found the same ingredients comprising Vanderbilt and Imerys’ asbestos-containing talc in Mr. Booker’s lung tissue. Also, the jury was shown testimony from Imerys executives proving that Imerys had re-blended its talc to try to hide the asbestos content.
This is the first time that Imerys has been found liable for punitive damages for its sale of asbestos-containing talc. Vanderbilt has previously been found liable in Kentucky, New York, and New Jersey for its marketing of asbestos-containing talc. Mr. Booker’s widow testified at trial that she and Mr. Booker chose to bring this lawsuit to prevent companies from harming workers such as her husband in the future.