Moments ago, the New Jersey jury that last week hit Johnson & Johsnon and Imerys with $37 million in compensatory damages concluded that the companies should pay $80 million in punitive damages to a plaintiff who claimed that his mesothelioma was caused by asbestos-contaminated talc in baby powder products. $55 million was awarded against Johnson & Johnson and $25 million was awarded against Imerys.
The punitive damage award followed the conclusion of a two month trial last week that saw the jury take only one day to reach a verdict in favor of plaintiff Stephan Lanzo II for $37 million. Johnson & Johnson was found 70% liable for Lanzo’s injury, and Imerys 30% liable.
In the case, plaintiff Stephan Lanzo II alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder product was contaminated with asbestos fibers that caused his mesothelioma. The plaintiff claimed that he used the talcum powder products from his infancy throughout his adulthood. Imerys was sued as the supplier of the talc to Johnson & Johnson.
During the trial phase, the jury saw studies from Johnson & Johnson showing that the talc used in the company’s talcum powder products was never contaminated with asbestos fibers. Johnson & Johnson pointed to studies conducted on Italian workers at the company’s talc mines and mills in Italy, which found no cases of mesothelioma among the workers. Nor were there any cases of mesothelioma found among Johnson & Johnson’s workers at its talc mines in Vermont. One of the more significant issues at trial was whether tremolite fibers found in samples of Johnson & Johnson talc were asbestos fibers or non-asbestos fibers. The distinction between the two fiber types is complex and relies heavily on scientific principles that the jury heard extensive testimony about.
In response, plaintiff’s attorneys stated during closing statements that the testing methods used by Johnson & Johnson were designed not to detect toxic minerals considered “asbestos” fibers and the company hid this fact from consumers and regulators. Counsel for Mr. Lanzo alleged that Johnson & Johnson specifically sought out tests that could only detect asbestos above certain levels – levels that it knew would never be crossed by its talc products.
At the punitive damages phase, the jury was asked to determine whether they believes that Johnson & Johnson and Imerys acted with wanton and willfull disregard for Lanzo’s health. During arguments at the punitive damages phase, counsel for Johnson & Johnson stressed that the company was concerned with the possible health effects of its products and went so far as to test its talc for asbestos and shared the results with the FDA. Plaintiff’s counsel took issue with that representation, re-asserting that the company conducted misleading tests and presented the FDA with faulty test results.
With respect to Imerys, plaintiff’s counsel showed the jury a document from Imerys’ files that depicted a Monopoly game board with “Talc” written in the middle and images of a skull and crossbones on the page. Counsel for Imerys argued to the jury that the image was created for a regulatory presentation and referred to hurdles the company faced in the regulatory realm.
This is the second trial of this kind linking Johnson & Johnson talc products to mesothelioma and the first involving a male plaintiff. The first case in which it was alleged that a plaintiff developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos-contaminated talc took place in California. The trial ended in a defense verdict in Los Angeles Superior Court in November 2017. In that case, Johnson & Johnson successfully argued that Herford’s exposure to asbestos was from other sources, including her father’s clothes.
The attorneys at CMBG3 Law LLC have represented clients in talc, products liability, and toxic tort matters for many years. We provide the most current advice by staying informed of legal, scientific and medical developments regarding a wide variety of substances and products, including talc-containing products, used by consumers every day. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact John Gardella (email him or 617-936-4353).