Legislation & Litigation

J&J Loses Second Asbestos in Talcum Powder Lawsuit

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Written By: Matt Mauney, Last modified: October 16, 2020
johnsons baby powder

Johnson & Johnson suffered its second trial loss in two months Wednesday linking the company’s baby powder to deadly asbestos-related cancer.

A Los Angeles jury awarded $21.7 million in compensatory damages to Joanne Anderson, who said she developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos in J&J baby powder laced with the carcinogen.

J&J was ordered to pay an additional $4 million in punitive damages Thursday, bringing the total award for Anderson to $25.7 million.

The verdict comes less than two months after Johnson & Johnson’s first loss in an asbestos-related talcum powder lawsuit. In April, a New Brunswick, New Jersey, court ordered J&J and talc supplier Imerys SA to pay $117 million in total damages.

In 2017, Anderson and her husband sued J&J, Imerys, Cyprus Amax Minerals, Honeywell International, a unit of Brenntag and other local talc suppliers. Johnson & Johnson was held 67 percent liable for the $21.7 million verdict, with the rest distributed among the other defendants.

J&J continues to deny its talc products contain asbestos or cause cancer. The company has lost two of the three asbestos-related talc lawsuits that went to trial and faces thousands of claims connecting talc to ovarian cancer.

An appeal of Anderson’s case is pending.

“We will continue to defend the safety of our product because it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma,” the company said in a statement after Thursday’s punitive damages ruling.

J&J Avoids Another Large Punitive Damage Hit

The punitive damages award in Anderson’s case is significantly lower than the ruling in New Jersey six weeks ago.

In the April verdict, the New Jersey jury hit J&J with $55 million in punitive damages, while Imerys was responsible for the other $25 million. This came just five days after J&J was found 70 percent liable ($25.9 million) for compensatory damages awarded to plaintiff Stephen Lanzo III and his wife.

Lanzo, a retired banker, claimed he used Johnson & Johnson’s Shower to Shower and Baby Powder products from 1972 to 2003.

Anderson’s allegations were similar. The 68-year-old said she used the company’s baby powder on her children in the 1970s and on herself in the 1980s and 1990s while bowling. She went through two bottles a month, Anderson said.

Her verdict came in the same Los Angeles Superior Court that ruled in favor of J&J in the first trial aiming to link the company’s talc products to mesothelioma.

Asbestos in Talc an Increasing Problem for J&J

Talc products were popular from the 1970s to the 1990s. Many are still sold today, including J&J’s iconic baby powder.

Talc is the softest mineral on earth and is known for its ability to absorb moisture and provide lubrication at the same time. Talc and asbestos can form naturally alongside each other, leading the way for cross-contamination during mining.

J&J has assured its products are safe and asbestos-free, citing decades of testing by independent laboratories and scientists.

Lawyers for J&J claimed Anderson’s mesothelioma could have occurred “spontaneously.” The defense also cited Anderson’s family history of lung and breast cancer.

Anderson’s lawyers conducted tests on baby powder bottles found in the plaintiff’s home. The products reportedly tested positive for asbestos.

In addition to the recent string of mesothelioma lawsuits against J&J, the company faces approximately 6,000 cases claiming its baby powder caused ovarian cancer.

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