In early April 2018, jurors in Brunswick, New Jersey (NJ), made legal history by finding for the first time that asbestos in talcum powder products sold by Johnson & Johnson caused a plaintiff’s mesothelioma. The jury ordered the personal care products giant and one of its main talc suppliers to pay a 47-year-old man and his wife a combined $117 million. J&J will pay 70 percent of the damages, while 30 are assigned to co-defendant Imerys Talc America. The jury ordered the companies to pay $37 million in compensatory damages, in addition to $80 million in punitive damages.
Johnson & Johnson currently faces thousands of civil dangerous and defective product lawsuits regarding its Shower to Shower and Baby Powder personal care products. Almost all of those suits claim the company failed to warn users about ovarian cancer dangers, but several also call attention to the presence of asbestos fibers in talc powder.
J&J has lost the majority of trials over ovarian cancer risks, with the awards to plaintiffs or their estates reaching into the tens of millions of dollars. In one instance, a Virginia woman who took Johnson & Johnson to court in St. Louis received $110 million in total damages, and a judge upheld that award on appeal.
Evidence presented at an ovarian cancer-related lawsuit in 2017 introduced formerly sealed internal Johnson & Johnson communications in which a company safety official alerted the executives to asbestos contamination in one of its contracted talc mines. As reported by Bloomberg,
One of the documents unsealed Sept. 6 indicates that in May 1974, an official at J&J’s Windsor mine in Vermont recommended “the use of citric acid in the depression of chrysotile asbestos’’ from talc extracted from the site.
“The use of these systems is strongly urged by this writer to provide protection against what are currently considered to be materials presenting a severe health hazard and are potentially present in all talc ores in use at this time,’’ the mine’s director of research and development wrote then.
Johnson & Johnson spent the next several decades issuing public assurances that its talcum powders were asbestos-free.
A major reason J&J keeps losing in court over the proposed link between nearly daily use of Shower to Shower and Baby Powder for feminine hygiene is because strong science shows that talc fiber can enter women’s bodies and damage organs. Also, the body has no mechanism for expelling talc fibers.
The same science supports the link between exposure to asbestos fibers and the development of mesothelioma. Stephen Lanzo, who is currently dying from that incurable disease, had used J&J talcum powder some ten thousand times in his life. Jurors accepted the contention that this exposed him to mesothelioma-causing amounts of asbestos, in part because Johnson & Johnson failed to offer warnings.
J&J’s attorneys attempted to argue that Lanzo had other dangerous exposures to asbestos from insulation in the basement of his home and at the elementary school he attended. Jurors dismissed those sources of asbestos as minimal, out of the plaintiff’s control, and, ultimately, removed when they were identified.
As a Virginia-based dangerous and defective lawyer, I congratulate the Lanzos’ plaintiffs’ attorneys Moshe Maimon of Levy, Kronigsberg and Joseph Satterley of Kazan, McClain, Satterly & Greenwood for not letting J&J escape its responsibility for failing to warn a loyal customer of the life-threatening danger he faced. Also, as an attorney who has helped many retired railroads workers and families of deceased railroaders hold their employers and parts suppliers accountable for doing too little to protect workers from asbestos exposures, I am glad that another intentionally hidden mesothelioma risk has been brought to light.