On May 24, 2018, a California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay nearly $26 million in compensation to a couple who says the company's talc-based powders contain trace amounts of asbestos.
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Joanne Anderson was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma; asbestos exposure is the only known cause.
At trial, Anderson told jurors that, as an avid bowler, she had powdered her hands and shoes with Johnson & Johnson-made baby powders for years, then cited internal corporate documents that appear to catch high-level company executives acknowledging that some of J&J's talc deposits are contaminated with asbestos.
The Los Angeles jury agreed with Anderson's assessment, finding that Johnson and Johnson, along with several other companies, had failed to disclose the asbestos content of its body powders.
Alongside three other companies, Honeywell / Bendix, Borg Warner and Fel-Pro, Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay Anderson and her husband a total of $21.75 million in compensatory damages. An additional $4 million in punitive damages has been assessed against J&J.
In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said it was "disappointed" in the jury's verdict. "We will continue to defend the safety of our product because it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma," the company wrote. It plans to appeal the jury's decision.
The asbestos connection is relatively new to talcum powder litigation, which kicked off several years ago when a group of women filed suit over the product's alleged link to ovarian cancer.
A number of internal documents disclosed during the course of ovarian cancer litigation suggest that some high-level members of the J&J team may have known that talc deposits on which the company relied had been contaminated with asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral that is the only known cause of mesothelioma.
It wasn't long before men and women who had been diagnosed with the deadly cancer, along with surviving family members, began to file lawsuits of their own. Around 9,000 of these talc-asbestos lawsuits are now pending in federal and state courts across the country. And miraculously, despite their novelty, several of these cases have already resulted in precedent-setting jury verdicts.
In April 2018, a New Jersey jury concluded that, for years, J&J and Imerys Talc had known but hidden the fact that their talcum powders contained trace amounts of asbestos. The minerals are often found together in natural deposits. In that case, an investment banker who developed mesothelioma after using talcum powder products for decades was awarded an astounding $117 million in compensation, including $80 million in punitive damages.
In related news, Imerys Talc, Johnson & Johnson's primary talc supplier, has agreed to settle the claims of 22 women who accuse the company of selling talcum powder that was tainted with asbestos. While the settlement's terms have not been disclosed publicly, sources familiar with the agreement say a payment of at least $5 million is included, Bloomberg reports.
Imerys Talc has often found itself side-by-side Johnson & Johnson as a co-defendant in recent talc-related litigation. In settling the 22 lawsuits, Imerys left Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary companies alone to defend themselves in an trial that began on June 6, 2018.
Imerys has consistently maintained that its talc is pure, free of the deadly mesothelioma-causing fiber known as asbestos. Lawsuits on the issue are set to determine whether or not J&J and its partners in manufacturing and marketing baby powder knew anything about the alleged asbestos content of the products.
Continue Reading: California Jury Deadlocked In Latest Talc-Mesothelioma Trial