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On Thursday, a New Jersey jury ordered Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc to pay $37 million in damages in a lawsuit that alleged side effects of Johnson’s Baby Powder caused the development of mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer associated with exposure to asbestos contained in the talcum powder.
The verdict came following a two month trial in Middlessex County Superior Court jury in New Brunswick, involving claims brought by New Jersey resident Stephen Lanzo III and his wife, Kendra. The jury found that Johnson & Johnson was 70% responsible for the mesothelioma diagnosis, and that Imerys Talc was responsible for the remaining 30%.
The couple’s mesothelioma lawsuit alleged that Lanzo developed the cancer due to asbestos fibers contained in Johnson’s Baby Powder, which Lanzo used throughout his life.
Next week, the jury will consider whether the companies should face additional punitive damages for concealing information that its talcum powder products could contain asbestos. A decision for punitive damages could increase the jury verdict by several orders of magnitude, as the damages are designed to punish defendants and typically are a multiple of the compensatory damages awarded.
While thousands of women nationwide are pursuing Johnson’s Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits over the development of ovarian cancer associated with applying the talc powder around the genitals, the case brought by the Lanzos is part of a growing litigation over injuries associated with asbestos contained in the products.
The trial was the latest in a number of recent bellwether cases that alleged talc powder products contained asbestos or had asbestos-like qualities, but the first in New Jersey state court, where Johnson & Johnson’s headquarters are located.
In December, a similar talc powder case went to trial in California, resulted in a jury award of $17.57 million in compensatory damages and $4.6 million in punitive damages, for the family of man who died of mesothelioma in 2016, after years of exposure to talc.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is only known to be caused by exposure to asbestos or breathing asbestos fibers. It is a lethal disease that is often at a very advanced stage when a diagnosis is made, resulting in a very short life-expectancy.
A number of studies published in recent years have highlighted the link between talc powder and mesothelioma, but questions about the risk were first raised by health officials in Baltimore as early as 1972.
In October 2014, a study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health identified a potential link between an unnamed, but popular, brand of talc powder and asbestos exposure, suggesting that use of the product may have caused the death of at least one unidentified woman due to mesothelioma.
In April 2016, Colgate-Palmolive was ordered to pay $1.4 million to a woman diagnosed with mesothelioma after exposure to Cashmere Bouquet talc powder. Colgate-Palmolive reached an undisclosed settlement in November over another talcum powder asbestos claim.
Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Claims
In addition to concerns over the talc powder mesothelioma risk, Johnson & Johnson currently faces more than 6,000 ovarian cancer lawsuits brought by women nationwide, and several state court trials in recent years have resulted in multi-million dollar damage awards over failure to warn about the risks associated with use of talcum powder by adult women for “feminine hygiene”.
The lawsuits allege that talc particles may migrate through the vagina to the ovaries, resulting in the development of ovarian cancer following years of exposure. According to evidence introduced in prior trials, Johnson & Johnson has known about these risks associated with their baby powder for decades, yet continued to market talcum powder to adult women and introduced Shower-to-Shower powder for that specific market.
While Johnson & Johnson is pursuing appeals in each of the cases that resulted in a verdict, and is refusing to negotiate talcum powder settlements for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, some analysts suggest that the recent verdicts may be a sign of future problems for the manufacturer, due to signs that juries find Johnson & Johnson’s trial defense lacking in credibility.