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A California jury awarded $12 million in damages this week to a woman who alleged that she was diagnosed with mesothelioma due to exposure to talcum powder products contaminated with asbestos, including Johnson’s Baby Powder, Shower-to-Shower and Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet.
The verdict was returned in a mesothelioma lawsuit filed by Patricia Schmitz, who indicated that she was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer following years of using talcum powder products.
The Alameda County Superior Court jury indicated that Johnson & Johnson and Colgate should each pay Schmitz $4.8 million in compensatory damages. In addition, Avon Products was deemed responsible for $2.4 million in damages, but the company was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, so it is unlikely she will recover that portion of the award. The jury could not agree on whether to award additional punitive damages, which would have been designed to punish the manufacturers for recklessly disregarding the health of consumers.
Johnson & Johnson currently faces nearly 12,000 Johnson’s Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits pending in courts nationwide, each raising similar claims that the manufacturer has known for decades that their products may contain asbestos and increase the risk of cancer, yet failed to warn consumers.
In addition to mesothelioma lawsuits, many of the complaints involve allegations that particles included in the talcum powder may cause ovarian cancer, following years of regular application around the genitals for feminine hygiene.
A number of cases have already gone to trial at the state level, with several resulting in large verdicts for plaintiffs, often including punitive damages. Last year, a Missouri jury returned a landmark $4.7 billion verdict for 22 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson has indicated it will appeal this latest verdict.
This is not the first loss for Colgate either. 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 2017 over another talcum powder asbestos claim.
Most of the talcum powder litigation is current pending in the federal court system, where lawsuits filed by individuals nationwide are centralized for pretrial proceedings as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey.
Later this year, Judge Wolfson is expected to rule on Johnson & Johnson’s challenges to the admissibility of certain expert witness testimony under the federal rules. However, if the Court finds that the evidence is sufficiently reliable, Johnson & Johnson could face large numbers of individual trial dates in courts nationwide in coming years.