Johnson & Johnson Back on Trial in Mesothelioma Case
The second trial involving Johnson & Johnson’s iconic baby powder and its possible link to mesothelioma began this week in a Middlesex County, New Jersey, superior court.
A jury in California two months ago — in a highly anticipated first trial — found the pharmaceutical giant was not responsible for a plaintiff’s mesothelioma, the rare asbestos-related cancer.
Superior Court Judge Ana Viscomi opened the latest trial Monday in New Brunswick, New Jersey, just a few blocks from the world headquarters of Johnson & Johnson.
The trial is estimated to last two months.
Plaintiff Stephen Lanzo III, 46, of Verona, New Jersey, claims Johnson & Johnson knew its product contained traces of asbestos and failed to warn consumers, leading to his diagnosis two years ago.
The company has maintained its products never contained asbestos.
In its opening statements Monday, counsel for J&J offered several alternate theories for the source of Lanzo’s cancer:
- The home Lanzo grew up in received abatement in 2002 for basement pipes wrapped in asbestos. His brother testified that he would swing from the pipes as a child.
- Lanzo’s elementary, middle and high schools all had multiple rounds of asbestos abatement, according to the defense.
- New Jersey, the state where Lanzo spent most his life, has a high rate of asbestos exposure and high ranking for mesothelioma deaths.
Trial Delayed After Evidentiary Dispute
In the earlier California case involving Tina Herford, J&J argued the cancer may have been caused by asbestos fibers on the work clothing of her father or from therapeutic radiation treatments she received earlier for breast cancer.
The latest trial was scheduled to begin earlier this month, but it was delayed by a pretrial evidentiary dispute involving a tissue sample from the plaintiff that J&J wanted introduced as evidence.
Lanzo claimed his only potential exposure to asbestos was from the baby powder. But the tissue sample, according to reports, showed the presence of a type of asbestos used commercially but never associated with any previous talc claims.
The judge ruled the evidence cannot be used in the trial because of its late introduction.
Johnson & Johnson is aiming for its second consecutive victory against a mesothelioma plaintiff, but it has struggled in legal claims blaming the company’s products for causing women to develop ovarian cancer.
Connection Between Asbestos and Ovarian Cancer
Plaintiffs in the past two years won five highly celebrated verdicts, ranging from $55 million to $417 million.
Two of those, however, have been overturned on appeal.
More than 5,000 talc-related claims have been filed against Johnson & Johnson. Most involve ovarian cancer, although not all are tied to the presence of asbestos.
Imerys Talc America and Cyprus Amax Minerals Co. — other talc producers — joined Johnson & Johnson in the New Jersey mesothelioma case.
The connection between talc and cancer has been debated by researchers for many years, but it previously focused on industrial-grade talc used mostly in factories and commercial uses.
Mesothelioma Cases Brewing
The climate changed significantly in 2015 after a California woman won a $13 million lawsuit against Colgate Palmolive, believing she developed mesothelioma from asbestos in Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder.
Another California Superior Court jury awarded $18 million in 2016 to a plaintiff who sued talc supplier Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, claiming asbestos mixed in the talc caused his mesothelioma.
Colgate-Palmolive, which is facing more than 170 cases involving asbestos-contaminated talc, settled a mesothelioma claim in 2017 with a woman for an undisclosed amount in New Jersey state court.
Talc is one of the world’s softest minerals. It is still widely used in a variety of products to improve textural feel and absorb moisture.
The connection between talc and asbestos involves the close proximity of the two minerals on the earth’s surface.
Many of today’s lawsuits stem from talc products used decades ago.
No Federal Regulations for Asbestos in Talc
There are no federal regulations to prevent asbestos-contaminated talc in talcum powder or other cosmetic products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can act only if scientific evidence shows a product is harmful under its intended use.
In 2010, the FDA conducted extensive testing of cosmetics and talc products and found no asbestos fibers. However, the results were labeled as “informative,” yet not conclusive.
Toxic asbestos fibers — if inhaled or ingested — can lead to serious health problems such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.