A jury in New York state ordered J&J to pay $300 million in punitive damages to a woman and her husband who claimed the company’s baby powder led to her mesothelioma, a serious cancer of the lung lining and surrounding tissues. (asbestos.com)
That jury also awarded the couple, Donna Olson and her husband, $25 million in compensatory damages three days earlier. The total of this verdict is the highest in nearly 36 months of litigation over Johnson & Johnson’s various cosmetic products that contain talcum powder.
Plaintiffs argue the talc once had asbestos fibers, which has been confirmed to cause mesothelioma and other cancers. In another similar case in 2018, a jury in St. Louis awarded an astonishing $4.7 billion to 22 women and their loved ones who claimed in the suit that asbestos in the company’s baby powder led to their ovarian cancer. (thehill.com)
Johnson & Johnson is currently appealing the $4.7 billion verdict, and is reviewing its legal options regarding the current $325 million case.
In both of the cases, jurors believed the company did not provide a warning to consumers that products with talc can increase cancer risk.
Was Asbestos Present in J&J Baby Powder?
A J&J spokesman stated after the $325 million verdict that an appeal will lead to a reversal because of alleged legal errors by the defense. The spokesperson added that many years of tests by experts outside the company as well as academic bodies have confirmed that J&J Baby Powder does not contain any trace of asbestos or cause cancer.
Various methods of testing for asbestos in talc over the years have resulted in mixed conclusions. This is what has led to the current surge in litigation, which started in 2016. J&J currently is facing more than 14,000 claims related to talc, per the firm’s latest filings with regulatory bodies.
Only a small number of the legal claims involve mesothelioma, which is a rare and aggressive type of cancer with no cure and poor prognosis.
Olson, who received her diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma in 2016 was too ill to attend the trial in New York in March 2018. As part of her cancer treatment, she had an extrapleural pneumonectomy, which is an aggressive form of cancer surgery that removes the cancerous lung.
Her husband, Robert Olson, provided testimony at the trial. He said his wife regularly used the company’s baby powder for years. The Olsons said in a joint statement they were grateful for the jury’s dedication and hope the case increases awareness of the possible dangers of asbestos in talc-based products produced by J&J and other companies.
J&J Sometimes Wins Cases on Appeal
While the above $325 million verdict above is eye-popping, it is worth remembering the company has had some success in overturning several talc verdicts on appeal. The company also has prevailed in other cases, such as one in South Carolina earlier this month.
Spokesperson Kim Montagnino told the press this month that of all J&J verdicts that have gone through the entire appellate process, all of them have been overturned.
In the initial ruling against J&J focused on talc and mesothelioma, a New Jersey jury ordered the company to pay almost $26 million to a man and his wife last year. Also, a court in Los Angeles ordered the company to pay $21 million to a woman who said using the powder for 20 years caused her mesothelioma. Still another California jury awarded $26 million in 2018 for mesothelioma allegedly caused by the company’s baby powder.
DOJ Subpoenaed J&J in 2019
Because of the legal onslaught against J&J, the US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a subpoena for the company in early 2019. Both agencies sought documents related to its talcum powder products and safety.
The subpoena order was after a large Reuters report that determined J&J executives had hidden reports that some of its talcum powder products did contain asbestos. But executives have denied these allegations.
Talc is the softest mineral that occurs naturally on earth, and is a constant ingredient in many consumer and industrial items. The problem of possible contamination with asbestos is because of where it is mined. It is common for asbestos and talc to be found near each other in mining, which can lead to contamination.
US Sen Patty Murray (D-WA) recently asked J&J for detailed documentation about its asbestos testing in past years in its talc products.
Possible Compensation in a Mesothelioma-Asbestos Case
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and believe you were exposed to asbestos in a talc-based or other type of product, you can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for medical costs, pain and suffering, lost wages and more.
Some of the common ways to obtain compensation in these cases are:
- Bankruptcy trust funds: Many firms that mined various forms of asbestos or made products with asbestos went bankrupt. As a condition of bankruptcy protection, many of these companies had to establish funds to compensation mesothelioma and other cancer victims.
- Settlements: If you file a personal injury lawsuit with your mesothelioma attorney, there is a good chance you will end up settling with the company that caused your asbestos exposure. Settling a claim is faster and less expensive than going through a trial that can take years. Also, you can flat lose at trial, so the risk of going to court is serious.
- Verdict: If you go to trial on your asbestos cancer case and choose to not settle, it is up to the jury to decide if your case has merit and what to award you. Bear in mind that most companies appeal any sizable verdict so it is possible your award could be reduced or even thrown out entirely on appeal.
- J&J Asbestos Talc Verdict. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.asbestos.com/news/2019/06/03/johnson-johnson-asbestos-talc-verdict/
- J&J Ordered to Pay $300 Million Talc Cancer Case. (2019). Retrieved from https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/446381-johnson-johnson-ordered-to-pay-300-million-in-talc-cancer-case