Huge Jury Verdicts For Meso Patients
This emerging litigation has already borne fruit for some plaintiffs. At least two talc-asbestos-mesothelioma lawsuits have already gone to trial, with juries in New Jersey and California hearing the legal theory that Johnson and Johnson should be held liable for selling asbestos-contaminated talcum powders.
Both trials ended in verdicts for the plaintiffs. To date, Johnson & Johnson, alongside talc suppliers, has been ordered to pay over $142 million in compensation to mesothelioma victims and their spouses.
New Jersey Couple Wins $117M In First Mesothelioma Trial
In April 2018, a couple from New Jersey was awarded $117 million in compensation in the first talc-mesothelioma case to reach trial, according to Reuters. Decided by a Middlesex County jury, the case revolved around a New Jersey banker who said he developed mesothelioma after inhaling Johnson & Johnson's talc-based body powders for years.
Through his attorneys, the man accused Johnson & Johnson and talc supplier Imerys SA of concealing the powder's alleged asbestos content from him and other consumers.
Corn Starch Alternative Is Readily Available
All of this is made more outrageous, the lawyers continue, by the fact that Johnson & Johnson already sells a safe alternative to talcum powder: corn starch. In the 70s, when asbestos was conclusively linked to mesothelioma, most talcum powder producers did the safe thing - they moved away from talc entirely, because talc and asbestos are so closely-linked in mineral deposits that keeping them apart is often viewed as unfeasible.
Most of these manufacturers switched to corn starch, ensuring that the American public would be kept safe from asbestos. Johnson & Johnson took a different path, introducing a corn starch alternative but keeping its talc-based body powders on the market. Today, attorneys say that, if J&J insists on selling a talcum powder, the product should come with harsh warnings.
California Jury Orders J&J To Pay $25.75 Million
On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, a jury for the Los Angeles Superior Court hit Johnson & Johnson with another major loss, ordering the company to pay $25.75 million in damages to a California couple who argued that the wife had developed pleural mesothelioma after decades of using Johnson's Baby Powder. An "avid bowler," CNN writes, the woman at trial told jurors that she'd used the body powder for years to dry her hands and deodorize her shoes.
Memos Suggest Knowledge Of Asbestos Contamination
As evidence, the couple's attorneys used internal memos that appear to show high-level Johnson & Johnson officials instructing a Vermont mine owner to filter asbestos out of mined talc.
Another memo, written in 1973, appears to confirm asbestos contamination. After government officials helped the mine's owners search for asbestos fibers, one company employee wrote that the talc deposit did indeed "contain [...] talc fragments classifiable as fiber."
This evidence, attorneys argued, directly contradicts Johnson & Johnson's long-standing claim that asbestos fibers have "never" been discovered by any of the company's talc suppliers.
Talc & Asbestos: A Natural Pair
Asbestos and talc are both natural minerals; deposits of the two minerals are often found together in the ground. Asbestos, as most of us by now know, is the only known cause of mesothelioma, an aggressive and debilitating form of cancer that attacks the tissue lining of organs.
Since being used for numerous industrial applications throughout World War II, asbestos has now fallen out of favor. The 1970s brought a flurry of medical research through which asbestos and mesothelioma were linked conclusively in well-documented studies. There is today no doubt that asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma, but that fact didn't stop many industrial manufacturers from continuing to use the substance despite its risks.
Mesothelioma Litigation Finds New Landscape
Mesothelioma litigation has been a fact of life in America for decades. Tens of thousands of men and women from across the country have filed mesothelioma lawsuits over the years, suing their employers for millions of dollars in compensation. But with new revelations that Johnson and Johnson may have hid the asbestos content of its talc-based body powders, we could be entering a new world in mesothelioma litigation, one in which baby powder, not industrial manufacturing or ship building, is the cause of this terrible disease.
New Ovarian Cancer Lawsuits Include Asbestos Claims
The ongoing ovarian cancer litigation against Johnson & Johnson has also been given a boost by new allegations that the company's talc supply is contaminated by asbestos. In recent court filings, attorneys have proposed a new theory of cancer liability, tying a direct link between Johnson & Johnson's talcum-based body powders, asbestos and ovarian cancer. In their lawsuits, a group of ovarian cancer patients blame the alleged asbestos in talc powders for having caused their disease.
This emerging theory of liability has already seen enormous results in court. In July 2018, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay nearly $4.7 billion in compensation to 22 women and their families, the New York Times reports. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs, all of whom have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, accused Johnson & Johnson of concealing talcum powder's risks from the public. The women say they used Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower-To-Shower as feminine hygiene products for decades.
At trial, plaintiffs' attorneys successfully argued that Johnson & Johnson's talc powders were contaminated with asbestos. Then, the attorneys went further, drawing a link between exposure to this asbestos and the development of ovarian cancer. These arguments, previously untested before a jury, were heard in front of jurors in St. Louis, Missouri, where hundreds of other claims of talc-related cancer remain pending.
St. Louis Jury Awards Billions In Talc-Asbestos Damages
In a historic decision, the St. Louis jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for concealing the risks of its talc-based body powder products. After eight hours of deliberation, the jurors determined that Johnson & Johnson's baby powders had been contaminated with asbestos, but that the company failed to warn the public. Each plaintiff was awarded a sum of $25 million in compensatory damages, for a total of $550 million. These damages were granted to compensate each victim and her family members for the substantial medical expenses, lost wages and emotional trauma caused by her ovarian cancer diagnosis.
It only took 45 minutes for the jury to decide on a punitive damages award. Punitive damages are awarded against defendants who are deemed to have committed egregious forms of negligence; they are a punishment for outrageous conduct. Apparently, the St. Louis jury was preparing to send Johnson & Johnson a strong message. The order was entered, bringing the courtroom to tears. Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $4.14 billion in punitive damages.
This is widely believed to be one of the largest product liability verdicts in American history. It also a clear and resounding message for Johnson & Johnson, which continues to maintain that its talc-based products are safe and gentle.