The first mesothelioma victim to win an asbestos-in-talc case against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) will now receive $80 Million in punitive damages, per a possibly precedent-setting decision in this new area of litigation.
Johnson & Johnson shares the blame with its supplier, Imerys Talc America. The jury found that the companies acted with malicious and reckless indifference to the plaintiff’s rights in selling J&J’s talcum powder products, which they knew for years were tainted with cancer-causing asbestos. In this case, the contamination led to the plaintiff’s fatal lung disease, mesothelioma.
This brings the jury’s award to a total of $117 Million. In the first phase of the trial last Thursday, it awarded $37 Million to the plaintiff and his wife for their pain and suffering. The message to Johnson & Johnson? Lives are worth much, much more than profits.
Baby Powder and J&J’s Multimillion-Dollar Secret
The New Jersey jury awarded the punitive damages on Wednesday after hearing evidence that J&J executives were informed of asbestos contamination more than 40 years ago. Company scientists had warned in a 1974 memo that the contamination posed a “severe health hazard.”
Jurors ordered J&J to pay $55 Million and Imerys to pay $25 Million as punishment for choosing to protect their own reputations and profits over their customers’ health.
Johnson & Johnson itself argues its Baby Powder never contained asbestos, and that its testing efforts show an “expression of care” to ensure the product was asbestos-free. Confidential company memos show a clear distortion of facts. Not only was asbestos found in the company’s talc mine, but the testing results Johnson & Johnson released were skewed.
Have Asbestos and Talc Lawsuits Reached Crisis Point for J&J?
The verdict came in only the second national trial to claim that the pharmaceutical giant’s talc products contain asbestos. Johnson & Johnson is also fighting more than 6,600 lawsuits from women who claim the company failed to warn of links between talc use and ovarian cancer.
Mesothelioma is a disease directly caused by asbestos exposure. The disease develops in the lining of the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or other major organs when microscopic asbestos fibers enter the body. Victims face no cure and virtually no chance of survival. But like other large corporations, lawsuits argue, Johnson & Johnson and Imerys showed no regard for the deadly risks their products posed.
Having J&J’s products tied to an asbestos-caused cancer “tarnishes the brand a bit,” said Jean Eggen, a Widener University law professor. This latest verdict could draw more similar cases in the coming months, she said.
Still, Johnson & Johnson continues a relentless campaign to protect itself.
“We will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder and immediately begin our appeal,” said J&J spokeswoman Carol Goodrich, echoing a similar reaction to the verdict from Imerys officials. “Once the full evidence is reviewed, this decision will be reversed.”
Instead of funneling all its resources into appeals, Johnson & Johnson would do better to recognize asbestos litigation for what it is: a strong and urgent appeal to take Baby Powder and other dangerous products off the shelves.