Recently, an appellate court issued a ruling on an appeal stemming from a California products liability suit. A woman specifically claimed, amongst other issues, that the company was liable for negligence, false representation, and intentional failure to warn/conceal the asbestos in their cosmetic and baby powders. Further, her husband filed claims based on the loss of consortium. The plaintiff argued that she developed malignant mesothelioma after using the company’s products daily for 20 years.
Johnson & Johnson moved for summary judgment based on its expert testimony that the company’s talcum powder and talc did not contain asbestos. Further, they argued that the plaintiffs did not present any expert testimony refuting the company’s expert testimony. The plaintiffs countered that the evidentiary burden did not shift to them because their discovery answers were sufficient, and in the alternative, their evidence demonstrated that the mines contained asbestos.
Under California law, if a defendant makes a “prima facie showing of the nonexistence of any triable issue” of material fact, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to make a contrary showing. California courts have found that if a defendant manufacturer meets its initial burden of production by making a prima facie showing that the plaintiff does not and cannot produce sufficient exposure evidence, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must then present evidence to raise a triable issue of material fact. In instances where a plaintiff’s claim stems from using a product not designed to contain asbestos, plaintiffs must show that it was “more likely than not” that the product was contaminated. Historically, courts have only overruled a defendant’s summary judgment motion in talc asbestos cases when the plaintiff presented expert testimony on the issue of contamination and exposure.