Baby Powder Mesothelioma Lawsuit Trial Ends in $45M Verdict Against Johnson & Johnson

An Illinois jury determined that asbestos in Johnson's Baby Powder caused a woman's death from mesothelioma, awarding her family $45 million in damages.

Days after Johnson & Johnson obtained a defense verdict in a talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuit in Florida state court, the manufacturer and it’s recently spun-off consumer healthcare division, Kenvue, was ordered by a Chicago jury to pay $45 million to the family of a woman who died of mesothelioma after using Johnson’s baby powder, highlighting the liability exposure the companies face for failing to warn about asbestos particles in it’s talc-based products.

Johnson & Johnson is currently defending more than 50,000 Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits, each involving similar allegations that users developed various types of cancer. While most of the litigation involves women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a number of claims involve individuals diagnosed with an especially fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma, which is only known to be caused by exposure to asbestos fibers.

This latest verdict comes in a lawsuit brought by the family of Theresa Garcia, who died of mesothelioma in 2020. The family claimed that the cancer was caused by Garcia’s regular use of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and accused the manufacturer of knowing that the talcum powder was tainted with asbestos for decades. However, the company never disclosed the serious health risks.

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Talcum powder or talc powder may cause women to develop ovarian cancer.

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After considering evidence at trial, the Illinois state court jury determined on Friday that Kenvue was 70% responsible for Garcia’s death, while the remaining parent company Johnson & Johnson carried 30% liability. Johnson & Johnson officials say they plan to appeal the decision.

Talcum Powder Trials Proceeding After Bankruptcy Stay Lifted

The Garcia verdict is one of the first wins for plaintiffs since the manufacturer decided to initiate a controversial talcum powder bankruptcy scheme in 2021, as part of an attempt to force any settlement for the cases through the U.S. bankruptcy system.  Although courts eventually rejected the bankruptcy filing, since Johnson & Johnson faces no financial distress and has sufficient assets to cover the liability for failing to warn about the talcum powder cancer risks, the move delayed the litigation for more than two more years.

While there are numerous similar lawsuits filed in state courts nationwide, all federal talcum powder cancer lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson specifically have been centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey since 2016 for coordinated pretrial proceedings, currently being overseen by U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp.

Until August 2023, all proceedings in the litigation were stayed while the bankruptcy filing was pending. However, since U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael B. Kaplan rejected a second talcum powder bankruptcy filing in July 2023, after determining that it was “filed in bad faith”, progress is getting underway once again in a federal talcum powder MDL, which was initially established in 2016.

Following the lengthy delays caused by the failed bankruptcy filing, Johnson & Johnson was able to further delay talcum powder lawsuit trials yet again, by convincing the federal judge presiding over the litigation to conduct another set of hearings to determine whether expert witnesses will be allowed to testify. Although a prior judge cleared the expert testimony to move forward years ago, the Court determined that developments in the science since then warrant reconsideration.

While the results of these individual trials will not be directly binding on other claims, the average talcum powder lawsuit payouts awarded by juries are expected to greatly influence the potential settlement values that Johnson & Johnson could be required to pay to avoid the need for each individual case to go to trial in the coming years.

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