Chapp v. Colgate-Palmolive Co. (Talcum Powder)

In Chapp v. Colgate-Palmolive Co. (2018AP937), the Court of Appeals District I held that the plaintiff presented insufficient evidence that Colgate talcum powder caused his wife’s cancer and therefore upheld summary judgment in favor of Colgate.

Ruth Chapp used Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder daily. Her husband Dale Chapp, who worked in an occupation where asbestos was present, acknowledged his wife was also regularly exposed to asbestos from being around his products, machinery, and work clothes. After Ruth died from mesothelioma, Chapp filed this lawsuit against Colgate, alleging its Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder contained asbestos that was a contributing cause to her cancer.

Chapp contended that the talc deposits where Colgate obtained its supply also contained asbestos. Some tests showed asbestos in the Colgate talc products, including the type of talcum powder that Ruth used, but Colgate’s expert challenged those tests, stating they were based on unreliable methodologies that are no longer used today. The actual product Ruth used was never tested for asbestos.

The court found that the probability of whether or not Ruth used Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder containing asbestos was speculative, so summary judgment by the court, not a jury trial, was appropriate. Any inference that the talc mines Colgate used contained asbestos and that the Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder Ruth used actually contained asbestos would be based on speculation or conjecture.

Furthermore, the court held that the exception in Wis. Stat. § 907.03 allowing experts to rely on inadmissible evidence did not apply in this case. Chapp presented expert testimony from two doctors, who each opined that Cashmere Bouquet contained asbestos which caused Ruth’s cancer. The court determined that these experts could not use § 907.03 to bring in the otherwise inadmissible hearsay that the Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder contained asbestos because that opinion was outside of their expertise as physicians.

Because Chapp did not present sufficient evidence to establish causation between the Colgate product and his wife’s cancer, the court upheld summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit against Colgate.