On March 13, a jury in California awarded a woman more than $29 million. The woman had claimed that asbestos in a bottle of talcum power produced by Johnson & Johnson caused her cancer.
The verdict, which was handed down in Oakland’s Superior Court, is just the latest setback for the company. Currently, there are in excess of 13,000 lawsuits filed against the company across the country relating to their talcum powder.
The company indicated that it would appeal the verdict. They cited significant evidentiary and procedural errors that occurred during the trial. While the company did not elaborate about these alleged errors, they insisted that the plaintiff’s attorneys never proved that the company’s talcum powder contained asbestos.
The company, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, further issued a statement, stating that while it respects the legal process, it believes that jury verdicts do not provide regulatory, scientific or medical conclusions about products.
Johnson & Johnson categorically denies that its talcum powder can cause cancer. It notes that regulatory tests across the world as well as a number of studies have demonstrated that its talcum powder is free of asbestos and safe to use.
Terry Leavitt was the plaintiff in the lawsuit. She says that, during the 1960s and the 1970s, she used two separate talcum powders sold by Johnson & Johnson – baby powder and a product called Shower to Shower. She further said that, in 2017, doctors diagnosed that she had a form of cancer tied to asbestos exposure called mesothelioma.
The trial began in the beginning of January and lasted 9 weeks. It took the jury two days to decide on a verdict, which was broadcast live on the Internet by the Courtroom View Network. More than a dozen similar lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson are scheduled to go to trial this year.
In Leavitt’s lawsuit, the jury came to the conclusion that not only did Johnson & Johnson produce defective products but that it also failed to warn its customers about the risks of using its products. While the jury did not award punitive damages, they gave Leavitt and her husband compensatory damages of $29.4 million.
The plaintiff’s lawyer also issued a statement in response to the verdict. He said that yet another jury had dismissed Johnson & Johnson’s claim that its talcum powder was free of asbestos. He went on to say that internal company documents had demonstrated to the jury that the company had known about the problem and had covered it up for decades.
Leavitt’s lawsuit was the first to go to trial in the aftermath of the publication of a report last December. The report indicated that Johnson & Johnson knew that its talcum powders on occasion tested positive for traces of asbestos during a period from the 1970s up until the beginning of the century. The report further indicated that the company did not disclose these tests either to its customers or regulators.
Originally, Leavitt’s lawsuit also named Imerys Talc America — which is a subsidiary of Imerys SE and Johnson & Johnson’s talcum supplier — as a co-defendant in the trial. The judge in the case, though, removed Imerys Talc America after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as a result of the lawsuits against it.
Earlier lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson alleged that the talcum powder itself caused ovarian cancer, but more recent suits have claimed that the asbestos in the powder caused both ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
So far, plaintiffs have won 11 cases against Johnson & Johnson because of asbestos contamination. The company has won 3 other cases, and another 5 cases had hung juries.
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