Earlier this month, a California jury awarded $29 million to Terry Leavitt, who sued Johnson & Johnson, claiming that asbestos was present in its talcum-based baby powder, causing her mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure. The verdict held that the powder was a “substantial contributing factor” to her illness.
Leavitt said that she used Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower (another powder containing talc and sold by Johnson in the past) in the 1960s and 1970s. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017. Her cancer is suspected to be in an advanced stage. Leavitt’s case was the first of many Johnson & Johnson talc cases scheduled for trial in 2019.
The nine-week trial began on January 7, 2019 and included testimony from almost a dozen experts for both sides. It only took the jury two days of deliberations before delivering its verdict. The jurors found that Johnson’s talc-based products were defective and that the company had failed to warn consumers of health risks. While the jury awarded $29.4 million in damages, it declined to award punitive damages.
Originally, Leavitt’s trial included Johnson’s talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, as a co-defendant. However, jurors were notified in February that Imerys was no longer part of the case, as it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the weight of the talc litigation, which stayed lawsuits against it.
This is just the latest in as many as 13,000 pending lawsuits against the company related to baby powder containing talc. To date, the largest award was $4.7 billion, which was awarded in July 2018. The company filed a motion to have the $4 billion reward to 22 women reversed, however, that motion was denied by the court. In another 2018 decision, a Los Angeles jury awarded $21.7 million to a woman who blamed her cancer on the powder.
In December 2018, Reuters published an investigation which is alleged to prove that Johnson & Johnson knew that its baby powder products occasionally tested positive for small amounts of asbestos and covered up this information. In the investigation, Reuters examined extensive internal company and court documents.
Johnson & Johnson said that it is appealing the verdict and maintains that its baby powder is safe. In a statement to ABC News, the company states that they “are disappointed with today’s verdict and will pursue an appeal because Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer.”
Many of the earlier talc lawsuits alleged that that talc itself caused ovarian cancer. However, the more recent trend is the focus on arguing that asbestos contamination in talc caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. In 11 of the recent cases arguing asbestos contamination in talc, three have resulted in wins for the plaintiffs. Johnson & Johnson has been successful in three other cases, while the remaining five resulted in hung juries. The company has appealed all three of the plaintiff victories and states that it is confident that the verdicts will be overturned.
After the verdict in Leavitt’s case was read, Johnson’s stock fell over 2% in premarket trading.