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British woman can bring asbestos cancer claim in New York against Clinique and Estee Lauder

A court ruling in New York means a British woman can bring her claim against global beauty giants Estee Lauder and Clinique that talc and face powder contained asbestos which caused her lethal cancer.

Posted on 04 May 2020

Hannah Fletcher, aged 45, claims that her lifelong use of the Estee Lauder talc and face powder and Clinique loose face powder caused her to develop mesothelioma.
The New York Supreme Court, New York County ruled that Mrs Fletcher could bring her mesothelioma case in New York against Estée Lauder, Avon, and Macys.
The court denied a bid by Clinique Laboratories, Estee Lauder Inc, Estee Lauder International and the Estee Lauder Companies that the case would be easier to litigate in England.
Asbestos claims lawyers are hailing the US court ruling as a major win for mesothelioma victims.
Mrs Fletcher is represented by Leigh Day Partner Harminder Bains, working with New York attorney Brendan Tully of Phillips and Paolicelli LLP.
Now Clinique and Estee Lauder must face Mrs Fletcher and her family in the New York City court in a case which claims that they knowingly allowed asbestos to contaminate their products, hid it from the public, and sold these allegedly dangerous products around the world.
Mrs Fletcher used New York-made talcum powder products for decades and it is claimed that asbestos contamination in these powders led to her mesothelioma. 
The Court accepted that Mrs Fletcher used American-made talcum powder products, bought them in the USA and was exposed to them while she was in holiday in New York.
Her case is that as a child she played with her mother’s Estee Lauder Youth Dew talcum powder, creating a cloud of dust with the puffer three or four times a week between 1976 and 1981.
Mrs Fletcher says that, aged 15, she began to use Clinique face powder twice a week, twice a day.
On a trip to New York in 1997 she purchased Estee Lauder translucent face powder as a gift for her mother as well as two containers of Clinique face powder for herself.
When Mrs Fletcher’s mother took a trip to New York in 2000 she also bought Clinique face powder for her daughter. Again, in 2001, Mrs Fletcher bought Estee Lauder talc for her mother.
The Court found that Mrs Fletcher would likely have no recourse against American cosmetic companies for her injury in the UK.  Unlike the American tort system, English courts almost exclusively deal with occupational exposure.
The Court applied the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Pahlavi balancing test; examining the arguments through the lens of several different factors.
Upon weighing the evidence, including the expert opinion of an English lawyer, the Court held that this case has a substantial New York nexus. 
The Court held:

  • Although the Plaintiff resides in England, the Defendants are located in New York
  • “Defendants' products were developed, manufactured, distributed and/or supplied from New York to England”
  • Defendants would face no hardship litigating in New York
  • The Fletchers would face significant hardship as the case could not proceed in England
  • The potential need to apply English law did not phase New York Court, which are regularly called on to apply foreign law. 

The Defendants failed to meet their burden to overturn Mrs Fletcher’s choice to file suit in New York. 
Leigh Day Partner Harminder Bains commented:
“This decision delivers a powerful message to cosmetic talcum powder companies.  If you harm consumers, even outside of the United States, you can be held accountable.”
Hannah Fletcher added:
“I am extremely grateful to Harminder and Brendan for continuing to fight on my behalf.”
Mrs Fletcher’s case will now continue on to trial in New York City.