Johnson & Johnson Loses $21.7 Million Verdict over Talc Asbestos Cancer Link

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A Los Angeles jury sided with 68-year-old Joanne Anderson, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma allegedly linked to a Johnson & Johnson talc product. It is the second similar award regarding the product. The jury awarded Anderson compensatory damages of $21.7 million. J&J is responsible for 67 percent of the award, with the remainder spread out among the other defendants.

Anderson and her husband sued J&J, a division of Imerys SA, Cyprus Amax Minerals, a unit of Brenntag, Honeywell International, and other talc suppliers, claiming that asbestos in the talc caused her mesothelioma, a type of cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

According to Reuters, J&J has been fending off approximately 6,000 lawsuits claiming its baby power causes ovarian cancer. Bloomberg puts the claims at 9,000. Now the focus is on whether it causes mesothelioma because of asbestos contamination.

J&J has consistently denied the products contain asbestos or cause cancer based on decades of testing by researchers and independent laboratories. The plaintiffs argue that asbestos and talc are intermingled in the mining process, and that it’s impossible to separate out the asbestos.

“While we are disappointed with this decision, the jury has further deliberations to conduct in this trial and we will reserve additional comment until the case is fully completed,” J&J said in a statement.

In April, a New Jersey court jury awarded $117 million to a man who claimed he developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure from J&J Baby Powder. Imerys SA was also named in the suit. It is being appealed.

J&J and Imerys, a local unit of Rite Aid, is also defending another mesothelioma trial in South Carolina.

Although Anderson’s attorney, Chris Panatier, has declined to comment to the media so far, he did indicate the jury is currently debating whether to award punitive damages, which could significantly increase the $21.7 million figure.

According to Law360, the New Jersey case appeal is ongoing, stating, “Attorneys sparred Wednesday in New Jersey state court over a defense bid to toss verdicts totaling $117 million in damages against Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America Inc., on the grounds that a man’s decades-long exposure to the pharmaceutical giant’s asbestos-containing talcum powder contributed to his mesothelioma.”

Imerys’ attorneys are working to get the court to drop the $37 million in compensatory damages and the combined $80 million in punitive damages.

There was another related trial in November, in California, where the jury found for the company.

Rx Injury Help writes, “Plaintiffs pursuing these cases claim that the company has been aware of numerous studies suggesting the regular and repeated application of talcum powder to the female genitals may contribute to the development of the often-deadly disease. The company allegedly failed to warn the public of this potential risk in order to protect sales derived from the Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower franchises. Since February 2015, a half-dozen talcum powder ovarian cancer plaintiffs have been awarded multi-million-dollar judgments ranging from $55 million to $417 million, though two of those verdicts were later overturned.”

What seems somewhat perplexing is if there really was enough asbestos to be found in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower, why the number of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma cases isn’t higher. According to Statista, between the two products alone, 71.55 million people used the products in 2017 alone. And there are numerous other brands of talc as well.

The American Cancer Society, for instance, says, “In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled. All talcum product used in homes in the United States have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.”

It goes on to say that scientific studies about whether asbestos-free talc causes cancer in laboratory animals has had mixed and inconclusive results, and the cases where it appears linked in humans, often have memory bias issues and conflicting results.

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