In the latest developments in Johnson and Johnson’s legal battle over talc, a California jury has awarded $25.75m in damages to a woman claiming her cancer was caused by talcum powder contaminated with asbestos.
A jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court awarded $21.75m in compensatory damages to Joanne and Gary Anderson on 23 May, and added $4m in punitive damages a day later. The Oregon woman said she used talcum powder in her bowling shoes, on her hands and on her children’s nappy rash.
The jury assigned J&J 67% of the responsibility for Joanne Anderson’s mesothelioma. The remaining liability "was spread among other exposures that Joanne had as a bystander to automotive work her husband occasionally performed," according to a statement by Simon Greenstone Panatier, the law firm representing the plaintiffs.
According to a legal news source, the jury asked the court if they could require J&J to place a warning label on its talc-containing products instead of awarding punitive damages, but the judge rejected this.
'We are disappointed with the verdict and will begin the appeals process,' J&J spokesperson
J&J spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement: "We are disappointed with the verdict and we will begin the appeals process. We will continue to defend the safety of our product because it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma."
"Over the past 50 years, multiple independent, non-litigation driven scientific evaluations have been conducted by respected academic institutions and government bodies, including the US Food and Drug Administration, and none have found that the talc in Johnson's Baby Powder contains asbestos," she added.
Meanwhile, a mistrial was declared in the South Carolina case on 25 May, when a Darlington County jury said it could not agree on a verdict in the case of Bertila Boyd-Bostic, who died of mesothelioma last year.
The case also named talc supplier Imerys as defendants, as well as a local owner of Rite Aid drug stores. Before declaring their deadlock, the jury voted unanimously to clear Rite Aid of South Carolina of liability.
"We continue to believe that the daily use of talcum powder on Bertila from birth led to her death," Boyd-Bostic’s lawyers said in a statement. "We look forward to retrying this case at the earliest opportunity."
Many cases pending
J&J is fighting thousands of talc-related claims nationwide, and the litigation is spreading to Canada, where a Quebec judge authorised a class-action suit in May.
J&J and Imerys Talc were ordered in April to pay $117m in damages to a New Jersey man, the first in a mesothelioma case. J&J's lawyers were back in court there in recent weeks, asking a judge to set aside that verdict.
The company had previously won a similar asbestos suit last autumn in the same Los Angeles County court where the Anderson case was tried.
Juries in multiple states have handed down multimillion dollar awards in cases linking genital talc use to ovarian cancer. But the largest single verdict was overturned in October last year by a California judge, who ruled that the plaintiffs had not proved that the products caused their cancer.