Jury Finds Johnson & Johnson, Imerys Liable in Lawsuit Claiming Talcum Powder Caused Mesothelioma Cancer
In a stunning verdict handed down in a federal court in New Jersey, a jury has ordered pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier, Imerys, to pay $37 million to a 46-year-old man who alleged that his mesothelioma was caused by his regular use of the defendant's talc-containing products over the course of his lifetime. The trial, which ended yesterday, is the most recent bellwether case over allegations that Johnson & Johnson's flagship products, Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, are carcinogenic.
Mesothelioma, a serious and invariably fatal form of cancer that attacks the visceral lining between the internal organs and the inner surfaces of the thoracic cavity, is known to be caused by asbestos exposure. The plaintiff, Stephen Lanzo, claimed that he developed the disease from inhalation of the talc-containing products, which he had been using since he was born. This is the first talcum powder trial in which the product was found to be the cause of mesothelioma. Johnson & Johnson continues to maintain that its talc is asbestos-free, but documents that came to light last year indicate that the company was aware of the presence of asbestos fibers in its talc since the early 1970s.
Five earlier trials held in Missouri, involving women who attributed their ovarian cancer to the use of talc-containing products, also ended in verdicts for the plaintiffs. Two of those verdicts were overturned on appeal. Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson are seeking to overturn the other three verdicts as well.
The jury awarded $30 million to Lanzo and an additional $7 million to his wife. Seventy percent of the liability has been assigned to Johnson & Johnson, while the remaining 30% lies with Imerys, the French-based mining company that supplied the talc.
Johnson & Johnson, a 130-year-old pharmaceutical company based in Brunswick, New Jersey, started manufacturing and marketing its Baby Powder in the 1890s. Once considered “The Most Trusted Brand in America,” the company and its subsidiaries and corporate partners have faced numerous lawsuits over a range of products in recent years, including knee and hip replacements, an anticoagulant medication (rivaroxaban) and a diabetic drug (canagliflozin).
Currently, Johnson & Johnson faces more than 6,600 claims over talc, primarily by women who claim the company failed to warn about the ovarian cancer risk associated with its products. This week's verdict is unlikely to help the company's already tarnished corporate image. In an interview with Bloomberg, law professor David Logan of Williams University said, “This [verdict] is going to take a toll on their reputation.’’
The jury's next task will be to determine whether or not the corporate defendants should pay punitive damages in addition to the compensatory damages already awarded.