Johnson & Johnson and its main talc supplier, Imerys Talc, have been ordered to pay $117 million in compensation to a man who says he developed mesothelioma after years of using talcum powder, Reuters reports. The judgment comes in the second trial to consider allegations that Johnson & Johnson-branded baby powders contain asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral and the only known cause of mesothelioma.

NJ Couple Wins $117M In Talc-Mesothelioma Case

On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, a jury in the New Jersey state court for Middlesex County where the talc cancer lawsuit was filed, announced an award of $80 million in punitive damages, adding to a $37 million award of compensatory damages granted the week before. The money will go to Stephen Lanzo, who secured $30 million in compensatory damages, and his wife, who was awarded $7 million in compensation. Johnson & Johnson is one of the largest private employers in New Jersey, headquartered in New Brunswick.

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J&J Talc Powders Contain Asbestos, Plaintiffs Claim

Lanzo claims to have developed mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of lung tissue lining, after inhaling particles of Johnson & Johnson-made talc powders since early childhood. He blames Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America, a division of French mineral giant Imerys SA, for concealing the product’s alleged asbestos content from the public.

In siding with plaintiffs, the New Jersey state court jury added new weight to Lanzo’s argument, which is echoed in a number of other lawsuits now consolidated under Judge Ana Viscomi, who presides over the coordination of numerous asbestos-related cases.

Secret Internal J&J Documents Swayed Jury’s Decision

The plaintiffs’ attorneys point to internal corporate documents that they think tipped the scales in favor of their clients. “The jury was able to see documents that had been secret and confidential until they were admitted into evidence,” according to attorney Moshe Maimon, who spoke with Courtroom View Network.

Unearthed during the talc ovarian cancer litigation, a number of documents from major J&J talc suppliers suggest that several mines have found trace levels of asbestos in their talc deposits. At trial, one of Johnson & Johnson’s “key expert witnesses,” Courtroom View Network writes, “admitted in his testimony that asbestos had been documented in Johnson’s Baby Powder.”

Both J&J, Imerys Talc America Found Liable

In their findings, the New Jersey jury concluded after two months of trial that Johnson & Johnson was 70% responsible for Lanzo’s injuries. Imerys Talc, the jury said, is liable for the remaining 30% of the responsibility. J&J will have to pay $55 million in punitive damages. Imerys Talc is stuck with $25 million in obligations.

J&J, Imerys Talc Plan Appeal

Both companies say they intend to appeal the decision. A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, Carol Goodrich, argues that the jury wasn’t allowed to review key evidence.

Speaking to Courtroom View Network, Goodrich says that the turn to mesothelioma cases is just a “shift in strategy” for plaintiffs’ attorneys, who have been hit by several courtroom losses in the much-larger ovarian cancer litigation. Two major ovarian cancer judgments, which found defendants liable for $72 million and $417 million respectively, were recently overturned by appeals courts in Missouri and California.

Ovarian Cancer Lawsuits Continue To Grow

Johnson & Johnson is currently staring down more than 6,000 baby powder lawsuits, but the vast majority of these claims involve ovarian cancer. Cases related to mesothelioma, and the alleged presence of asbestos in J&J’s talc-based products, are comparatively new.

Only “a few dozen” of these asbestos-mesothelioma lawsuits have been filed so far, according to Courtroom View Network, but the most recent decision, in which one couple has secured over $100 million in compensation, could change that.

Next Mesothelioma Trial Scheduled For May 2018

In November 2017, the first trial to consider a mesothelioma claim against Johnson & Johnson ended in a verdict for the defense, with a jury in the Los Angeles Superior Court finding in favor of J&J and Imerys Talc. Next month, a jury in South Carolina will review similar claims, marking the third trial to assess the evidence of asbestos content in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products.