J&J told to pay $29 mn in baby powder cancer trial

Kenny Grant
March 16, 2019

Johnson & Johnson's baby-powder problems continued as a California jury decided the company must pay $29 million to a woman who claimed the company's talcum powder-based products gave her cancer.

As much as Johnson & Johnson would prefer it were otherwise, it's still mired in highly publicized talc litigation-and it's still having trouble persuading juries to decide in its favor.

Her suit is one of many that link cancers to asbestos in Johnson & Johnson's talc-based products and contend that the company concealed the health risk for decades.

The jury awarded $24.4 million to Teresa Leavitt and $5 million to her spouse, Dean McElroy.

Despite the verdicts, Johnson & Johnson maintains that its baby powder formula does not contain asbestos, and set up a website called "Facts about Talc" to try and dissuade the public from continuing to think one of its most popular products contains the harmful mineral.

J&J has appealed all of the plaintiff verdicts, and the company said that it is confident the verdicts would be overturned on appeal.

"We are disappointed with today's verdict and will pursue an appeal because Johnson's Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer", Kim Montagnino, a J&J spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

It cited problems with legal procedure and evidence, and said lawyers for the plaintiffs failed to show that the powder contains asbestos, noting that "their own experts concede that they are not recognizing the accepted definition of asbestos and are ignoring crucial distinctions between minerals that are asbestos and minerals that are not".

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In 11 cases so far alleging asbestos contamination in talcum powder, three have resulted in wins for plaintiffs, awarding damages as high as $4.69 billion in a July 2018 multi-plaintiff ovarian cancer verdict.

The panel found J&J responsible for 78 percent of Leavitt's award and its consumer products unit is on the hook for 20 percent.

Talc and asbestos are often mined together from metamorphic rocks, particularly in North Carolina, Alabama, Vermont and northern Italy.

The history of talc and asbestos cases against Johnson & Johnson is mixed.

Last year, a Los Angeles jury awarded US$25.7 million to a woman who blamed her cancer on the powder.

Terry Leavitt reportedly used Johnson's Baby Powder and another powder named Shower to Shower. But she added that she didn't think Leavitt's lawyers proved that her cancer was the result of exposure to talc.

According to Reuters, the jury found that the products used by Leavitt were defective, and that the company had failed to warn consumers of the health risks.

Ovarian cancer is the other cancer type at the heart of the J&J cases.

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