Neutrogena Sunscreen Lawsuit Over Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Diagnosis Cleared To Move Forward
A federal judge has cleared the way for a California woman to move forward with a Neutrogena sunscreen lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, involving allegations that her child developed Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) from repeated exposure to benzene in aerosol spray products, which were recalled in 2021.
In a complaint (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on September 13, 2023, Kristi Hazard indicated that her 13 year old daughter was diagnosed with AML in 2020, after her parents regularly purchased and applied various sunscreen products manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, including Neutrogena Beach Defense Aerosol Sunscreen and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Aerosol Sunscreen.
As a result of the leukemia diagnosis from Neutrogena sunscreen when she was 11 years old, Hazard’s daughter required multiple chemotherapy treatments, as well as a stem cell transplant and other follow-up care.
The lawsuit was filed after Johnson & Johnson issued a massive sunscreen recall in 2021, following testing by an independent pharmacy that discovered Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen contained dangerous levels of benzene, a toxic chemical that is known to increase the risk of cancer and could pose long-term health risks in sunscreen.
In the wake of the recall, a number of sunscreen cancer lawsuits and sunscreen class action lawsuits were filed throughout the federal court system, each raising similar allegations that Johnson & Johnson knew or should have known about the presence of cancer-causing chemicals, but continued to market their aerosol spray products without adequate warnings.
In response to the Netrogena sunscreen lawsuit filed by Hazard, Johnson & Johnson filed a motion to dismiss, challenging the sufficiency of the complaint presented and arguing that it failed to allege adequate facts to establish that benzene in the products caused the AML diagnosis.
The manufacturer indicates that Hazard should be required to provide information regarding specific lot numbers, the sun protection factor (SPF), bottle sizes and expiration dates in the complaint, claiming that different levels of benzene had been detected in only certain batches of Neutrogena sunscreen. As a result, they argued that the Acute Myeloid Leukemia lawsuit filed by the mother of this 13 year old girl should be dismissed by the court.
Neutrogena Sunscreen Lawsuit Cleared to Proceed
In a court order (PDF) issued on December 12, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson rejected these arguments and cleared the case to move forward.
The Court indicated that the complaint includes allegations that the parents “regularly purchased” Neutrogena Beach Defense Aerosol Sunscreen and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Aerosol Sunscreen, and “regularly and typically on a weekly basis” sprayed the sunscreen on the child for 11 years, from June 2010 to July 2021. The complaint further indicates that analytical pharmacy testing found that numerous lots of Neutrogena sunscreen contained various levels of benzene, which is a known human carcinogen that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined may cause AML.
“Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to plausibly allege that J&J products she used contained benzene, that her use of those products exposed her to benzene, and that such an exposure caused her AML,” according to the order. “J&J’s additional concerns about identifying the particular products Plaintiff used, whether they in fact contained benzene, and if so, whether they contained benzene in sufficient concentrations to cause Plaintiff’s illness, are best resolved at later stages of these proceedings.”
As a result of the ruling, the Neutrogena AML lawsuit will be allowed to move forward with discovery and other pretrial proceedings, and Judge Anderson called for Johnson & Johnson to answer the complaint by December 28, 2023, as well as for the clerk to issue an order setting a scheduling conference for the case.
Benzene Cancer Risks
Benzene is an industrial chemical that has long been linked to fatal forms of leukemia and other cancers. The FDA considers it a solvent which should not be used in drug products, if avoidable. However, if benzene is not avoidable, it should be restricted to 2 parts per million (ppm), FDA regulations state.
Long-term side effects of benzene exposure have been proven to cause anemia, which is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Essentially, the chemical causes bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells, which can damage an individual’s immune system.
Federal regulators have determined long-term exposure to benzene can significantly impact blood cells, to the extent it causes various forms of cancer, including AML, Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL), Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDL), Myelofibrosis and Myeloid Metaplasia, Aplastic Anemia and Thrombocytopenic Purpura.
Neutrogena Sunscreen Settlements
While Johnson & Johnson continues to fight the claim presented by Hazard, as well as other lawsuits alleging benzene in Neutrogena sunscreen caused specific cancers, the manufacturer has agreed to settle class action claims brought on behalf of all consumers who purchased the recalled products.
In February 2023, the court issued final approval to a Neutrogena and Aveeno spray sunscreen class action settlement, in which Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $1.75 million in vouchers to consumers who purchased benzene-tainted products which were not subjected to the recall, resolving eight class action lawsuits.
In addition, as part of the agreement, Johnson & Johnson has agreed to remove any aerosol products from its inventory which use isobutane, which has been linked to the benzene contamination. The company must also adopt new testing protocols in order to better detect benzene in the future.
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