On April 5, a New Jersey state court jury awarded a young banker and his wife millions of dollars for his mesothelioma. The plaintiff alleged that he got the fatal asbestos-linked cancer because for three decades he had inhaled Johnson & Johnson products that contained talc contaminated with asbestos.
Thousands of other lawsuits against J&J have been brought by female plaintiffs who allege they contracted ovarian cancer from talc products.
Context for the Lawsuit
We have blogged extensively about the risk that talc products can be laced with asbestos. Talc is a soft mineral that can occur in the ground in the proximity of asbestos deposits, so the two can mix in the mining process. For this reason, it is imperative that any manufacturer of talc-containing products like baby powder or eye shadow ensure that all talc used has been tested for purity.
Unfortunately, not all manufacturers have behaved responsibly.
When someone uses talc products with potential asbestos contamination over a period of time, breathing in the mineral cloud that is created with talc powder application or using a product in a way that it could enter into the body puts the person at risk of asbestos-related diseases.
The New Jersey Case
Courtroom View Network reports that in Lanzo v. Cyprus Amex Minerals Co., the jury awarded $37 million – $30 million to the 46-year-old victim and $7 million to his spouse. Lanzo sued J&J as well as Cyprus Amex Minerals, a unit of Imerys, J&J’s French talc supplier. Liability was allocated 70 percent to J&J and 30 percent to Imerys.
CVN says that Lanzo alleged J&J kept the asbestos-talc risk information secret for decades, introducing into evidence a 1969 internal company memorandum indicating that the company knew of the danger even then. J&J claimed that it rigorously tested its products for purity, that no reliable tests have confirmed asbestos in its products and that Lanzo had been exposed to asbestos elsewhere.
This is reportedly the first talc trial against J&J in New Jersey, its home state. Ironically, the courtroom is under a mile from company headquarters, reports Insurance Journal.
On April 10, the trial will resume to consider whether punitive damages should be assessed against the defendants. A punitive damage award is meant to punish a party for their behavior as well as to set a deterring example for other, similar defendants.
CVN reports that J&J is “disappointed” in the outcome and that Imerys intends to appeal.