California jury declines to award punitive damages to woman who blames baby powder for mesothelioma
A California jury has awarded $29m to a woman who said asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talcum-powder-based products caused her cancer.
Wednesday’s verdict, in California superior court in Oakland, marks the latest defeat for the healthcare conglomerate facing more than 13,000 talc-related lawsuits nationwide.
The company said it would appeal, citing “serious procedural and evidentiary errors” during the trial, saying lawyers for the woman had fundamentally failed to show its baby powder contains asbestos. The company did not provide further details of the alleged errors.
“We respect the legal process and reiterate that jury verdicts are not medical, scientific or regulatory conclusions about a product,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement.
The New Jersey-based company denies that its talc causes cancer, saying numerous studies and tests by regulators worldwide have shown that it is safe and asbestos-free.
The lawsuit was brought by Terry Leavitt, who said she used Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower – another powder containing talc sold in the past – in the 1960s and 1970s and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017. It was the first of more than a dozen talc cases against the company scheduled for trial in 2019. The nine-week trial began on 7 January and included testimony from nearly a dozen experts on both sides.
The jury deliberated for two days before delivering its verdict.
Jurors found the talc-based products used by Leavitt were defective and that the company had failed to warn consumers of the health risks, awarding $29.4m in damages to Leavitt and her husband. The jury declined to award punitive damages.
“Yet another jury has rejected J&J’s misleading claims that its talc was free of asbestos,” said Moshe Maimon, a lawyer for Leavitt, in a statement on Wednesday. “The internal J&J documents that the jury saw, once more laid bare the shocking truth of decades of cover-up, deception and concealment by J&J.”
Leavitt’s was the first talc case to go to trial since Reuters published a report in December detailing that J&J knew that the talc in its raw and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos from the 1970s into the early 2000s – test results it did not disclose to regulators or consumers.
Leavitt’s trial originally included Johnson & Johnson talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, a unit of Imerys SE, as a co-defendant. Judge Brad Seligman, who oversaw the trial, told jurors in February the company was no longer part of the case after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the weight of the talc litigation, which stayed lawsuits against it.
While earlier talc lawsuits alleged talc itself causes ovarian cancer, plaintiffs’ lawyers have more recently focused on arguing asbestos contamination in talc caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, a form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
In 11 cases so far, three have resulted in wins for plaintiffs, awarding damages as high as $4.69bn in a July 2018 multi-plaintiff ovarian cancer verdict. Johnson & Johnson won three other cases and another five ended in hung juries.
The company has appealed against all of the plaintiff verdicts, and the company said it was confident the verdicts would be overturned on appeal.