A panel of California jurors judging the merit of allegations that Johnson & Johnson sold asbestos-contaminated talcum powder have failed to reach a verdict, Salon reports.
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On October 6, 2018, a mistrial was entered in the case of Carolyn Weirick, who accused Johnson & Johnson of failing to warn the public that the company's talc-based body powders contain trace amounts of asbestos, a deadly mineral sometimes found in tandem with naturally-occurring talc deposits. Weirick, the 59-year-old owner of an education industry counseling company, has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a life-threatening and aggressive cancer.
This is the second talcum powder cancer lawsuit in the last two weeks that failed to reach a verdict. Jurors have been deadlocked over claims of whether Johnson & Johnson should have warned consumers about the risks of asbestos. In the newest case, jurors for the Los Angeles Superior Court told State Judge Margaret L. Oldendorf that they had been unable to reach a consensus over the claims.
The news came after five full days of jury deliberations. Eight of the twelve jurors favored an award of damages to Weirick, just one shy of the nine jurors required.
Imerys Talc, Johnson & Johnson's main talc supplier and a co-defendant in Weirick's case, was dismissed from the lawsuit prior to jury deliberations. Experts say the talc supplier entered into a confidential financial settlement with Weirick.
Johnson & Johnson faces nearly 11,000 lawsuits filed on behalf of plaintiffs who say they developed cancer after long-term exposure to the company's talcum powders. While the vast majority of these claims involve cases of ovarian cancer, a growing number of claims draw a specific link between alleged asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
So far, plaintiffs have fared well at trial. Of 12 cases that have now gone to trial, eight have been decided in favor of plaintiffs, including a $4.69 billion judgment issued in July 2018 for 22 ovarian cancer patients or their surviving family members.
Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that attacks the tissue lining of organs. Most cases of mesothelioma follow occupational exposure to asbestos, with the majority of lawsuits in the past revolving around a plaintiff's time in the shipbuilding industry, carpentry, or industrial manufacturing.
At trial, attorneys for the plaintiff argued that she had never had any occupational exposure to asbestos. Instead, the lawyers said she had been exposed to asbestos over the course of many years, inhaling microscopic fibers of the mineral while using Johnson & Johnson's talc-based body powders, including Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower To Shower.
In testimony provided during the trial, materials scientist William Longo told jurors that his own microscopic analysis had found asbestos fibers in an old bottle of talcum powder taken from Weirick's home. Attorneys buttressed their case by presenting the jury with a number of internal corporate memos that appear to show high-level Johnson & Johnson executives admitting that the company's talc supply was contaminated by asbestos.
Defense lawyers for Johnson & Johnson argued that the company's talcum powders had always been asbestos-free. The attorneys challenged the accuracy of Longo's laboratory tests, while questioning the idea that Weirick could have inhaled enough asbestos fibers to actually cause mesothelioma.
The defense team told jurors that Weirick's cancer had arisen spontaneously. Lead defense attorney Chris Vejnoska cited epidemiological studies of talc miners that have found no cases of mesothelioma, despite years of occupational exposure to the mineral in its natural element.
Once the mistrial was announced, a number of jurors spoke to the media. George Chen, a 30-year-old computer analyst, told reporters that he was "a little frustrated" by the deadlock. Chen, who sided with the plaintiff, said that the four jurors who affirmed the defense's arguments appeared to have "the mindset of [...] business people."
A second juror, who chose to go unnamed, had a similar take on things, saying the real argument in the deliberation room came down to what a "reasonable" company would be expected to do under the circumstances. The four jurors who sided with Johnson & Johnson, she said, thought it was "reasonable" for the company "to go for profits over people because that's what all big corporations do."
Johnson & Johnson should have provided warnings, George Chen continued, because "people have a right to know." Chen also noted that Johnson & Johnson has made a safe alternative to talcum powder for years. The product, which is made from corn starch, could have been marketed instead of talc-based body powders, Chen said.
Amy Avila, who backed Johnson & Johnson's defense arguments, said the jury was split between "the thinkers against the feelers." She told reporters that she wasn't convinced that Weirick's mesothelioma had been caused by exposure to asbestos-contaminated talcum powder.
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