The Roanoke Times

Sunday, August 12, 2001
An crew for '20/20' will interview Northwest Roanoke resident today
Nail lawsuit attracts national media

A trip to a local nail salon in 1995 has turned Carol Webb's life into a six-year court battle.


   It's been six years, and Carol Webb says her fingers still don't look right.

    The stubby nails won't grow, and the tips are discolored. They get numb sometimes when she's hitting a keyboard at her data entry job, Webb said. She has a hard time putting earrings in and picking up coins from the floor, things that used to be easy before April 7, 1995, when she decided to get adventurous with some fake nails, she said.

    "I don't even know why I went there," Webb said. "I had fingernails. But I'm the type of person to try something once."

    She blames the former owners of a Williamson Road nail shop, Top Nails, for their use of liquid methyl methacrylate, known to the tongue-twisted as MMA. Webb won a lawsuit in May against the men who used to own the store, Cong Le and Truyen Pham. But a judge overturned the decision because of the possibility of jury error.

    In the meantime, her case has attracted attention from "20/20," the ABC television news magazine show. An expert witness in her case contacted a producer in charge of a May 2000, segment on nail salon safety. Webb said an ABC crew will visit her Northwest Roanoke home today for an interview. The show will also film the new trial, which is set for Monday.

    Candace Hewitt, a "20/20" producer, said her crew will report the case regardless of the outcome, in a segment about acrylic nails.

    Webb said she is shocked, and a little worried, that she and her fingernails are about to go nationwide.

    "I'm very self-conscious about my fingernails."

    MMA is a versatile chemical. It's the primary ingredient in Plexiglas. It is used as "bone glue" in medical procedures. Dentists used it to repair teeth in decades past. It still plays a role in construction.

    But its use with acrylic nail overlays has made it controversial.

    The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requires child-resistant packaging for household products that contain MMA. Injuries to children include skin burns and lung damage , according to the Food and Drug Administration's Web site. It is rarely used as a cosmetic anymore after legal action against a former manufacturer of products that contained MMA and numerous seizures and recalls of MMA products, according to the FDA.

    A few people whose fingernails have been injured have sued, but until Webb's case, none had ever gone to trial, said Nancy King, a Phoenix nail technician and consumer advocate who will testify Monday. King said customers came to her with nail damage after using MMA, but she found little information warning people about its dangers. She said it is still widely available, even though it is illegal in about seven states, and its use is regulated in about 30.

    "People do not know that when they walk into a salon that they run the risk of having severe damage done to their fingers, and breathing in the vapors can do damage to your lungs," King said.

    Norm Lambert is skeptical. His employees at Vermont-based Epoxy Systems come into contact often with MMA while doing such work as concrete repair, restoration and sealing.

    "I've had it spilled on every part of my body and had dozens and dozens of employees have spills, and I've never heard of anything worse than dermatitis," said Lambert, who is not involved in the lawsuit.

    Still, he won't sell any of his stock to nail salons.

    "It's small quantities and big liabilities, if you know what I mean," he said.

    MMA was part of a mixture called MG Liquid that Top Nails' former owners purchased in bulk from a California wholesaler, unaware that it included the acidic epoxy, said their attorney, Mark Loftis. Le and Pham sold the business in 1996.

    Webb, too, was unaware that the chemical was being used on her new nails, she said. Then the pain started.

    "My real nails started turning black, coming off in layers," she said.

    She had suffered a toxic reaction, nail dystrophy, said her attorney Arthur Strickland.

    A Roanoke jury awarded her $1,698.45, the exact amount of her medical expenses. But it failed to award her anything for pain and suffering, leading Roanoke Circuit Judge Jim Swanson to assume it had not considered those issues. The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that juries must consider them, or their verdicts must be set aside.

    So, it's one more go-round - with a lot more attention - for Webb, Le and Pham. Loftis said the case is the same, regardless of media coverage.

    "We're just going to put on our case, and the jury will have to decide it."

    Webb, though, said she will be glad when the attention is off her.

    "I can't believe all this," she said. "It's making me nervous."


Tuesday, August 14, 2001
Former owners of Top Nails were responsible for the use of liquid methyl methacrylate, jury finds
Jury decides Roanoke woman deserves $150,000 for disfigured nails

ABC's "20/20" will feature those who have suffered after getting fake nails with the substance.


   As a national TV camera rolled Monday, a jury awarded $150,000 to a Roanoke woman who blamed a Williamson Road nail salon for her disfigured fingernails.

    "Thank you, Jesus! Thank you! Thank you!" plaintiff Carol Webb yelled, jumping up and down before breaking into tears and hugging her attorney.

    The jury deliberated for about two hours. A previous jury had awarded her $1,698.45 for medical expenses, but a judge overturned that verdict because of a possible error in deliberations.

    Cong Le and Truyen Pham, former owners of Top Nails, were responsible for allowing the use of liquid methyl methacrylate in their business, the jury decided. Webb's toxic reaction to the solution, also known as MMA, left her with nails that won't grow and are discolored and fingertips that get numb, she said.

    The second verdict was sweeter not just because of the money it generated but because of the nationwide publicity her case will receive when the ABC television news magazine show "20/20" broadcasts her story with portions of the daylong trial, Webb said. That show could provide a warning to consumers and legal information to others whose nails have been damaged in salons using MMA, she said.

    Candace Hewitt, a "20/20" producer, said the segment will air about September, featuring Webb and others who have suffered after getting fake nails with MMA. She said her crew has searched salons for the product. Twenty-nine states have either laws or regulations against its use, according to testimony Monday.

    "I think the results will be a real eye-opener," Hewitt said. "The use is more prolific than you would think."

    Mark Loftis, attorney for Le and Pham, said it wasn't his clients' fault. MMA was part of a mixture called MG Liquid that the store manager purchased in bulk from a California wholesaler. Neither the owners nor manager Son Nguyen, who now owns the store, knew what MG Liquid's ingredients were.

    They also didn't know that Webb has a history of allergic reactions to several substances.

    MMA's manufacturer "is the one who is supposed to be the expert, and they're the one that ought to answer," Loftis said in closing arguments.

    Loftis asked Webb whether she recalled a prescription from her dermatologist, one that would burn her tongue if she bit her nails. He asked whether she remembered the doctor cautioning her not to bite her nails.

    "I told him I don't bite my nails," Webb said.

    Webb's attorney, Art Strickland, said Loftis' attempts to mischaracterize Webb's allergies and accuse her of nail biting were "red herrings."

    "There's no way, if you chewed them all night long, that you could get them that low," Strickland said.

    Instead, he told the jury, the store owners should have known they were buying MMA, and they should have known it has an adverse effect on a small percentage of people who are exposed to it. Within two weeks of getting her false nails, her real ones were turning black and coming off in layers, Webb testified.

    "I used to say there's not a nail I couldn't fix," said nail technician Nancy King, testifying for Webb. "I don't say that anymore," after seeing Webb's permanent injuries.
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