J&J ordered by jury to pay US$9 mil in talc-cancer case

DELAWARE: Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a Florida jury to pay $9 million to an 82-year-old woman who blamed asbestos-tainted talc for her cancer, the latest court loss for the company in US litigation over its iconic baby powder.

Jurors in Miami concluded on Thursday that asbestos in baby powder used by Blanca Mure-Cabrera over her lifetime contributed to the development of her mesothelioma, said David Jagolinzer, one of her lawyers.

That type of cancer has been specifically linked to asbestos exposure.

The trial loss is the second for J&J this year over claims the company knew some of its talc-based products were laced with asbestos and hid it from consumers.

Earlier this month, a jury in J&J’s hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey, ordered the company to pay US$750 million in punitive damages to four people.

A judge later reduced that award to US$186.5 million.

J&J – the world’s largest maker of healthcare products – said it will appeal the jury’s liability finding and damage award.

“Today’s verdict is at odds with the decades of evidence showing the company acted responsibly and was guided by sound science,” Kim Montagnino, a company spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

J&J still faces almost 18,000 lawsuits over the 135-year-old baby powder.

A majority of the cases allege women who used the product got ovarian cancer, while a smaller number claim links to mesothelioma.

The talc litigation may eventually cost the company as much as US$10 billion, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Though baby powder accounts for only a small fraction of J&J’s annual revenue, it’s been a core brand for the company for more than a century.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers claim internal J&J documents show executives knew since the late 1960s that talc mined in places such as Vermont and Italy contained trace amounts of asbestos but failed to alert consumers or regulators.

Asbestos is often found in mined talc, but the company says it is removed when processed.

The listed ingredients in J&J’s baby powder are talc and fragrance.

J&J – which contends there’s never been any asbestos in its baby powder and that it marketed the product properly – has steadfastly fought the claims at trial and on appeal, only settling a small number of lawsuits.

Earlier this week, J&J agreed to settle a 62-year-old woman’s mesothelioma claims just before a trial in state court in Manhattan was set to begin.

In court filings, lawyers for Laura Shanahan said she used baby powder daily starting as a young child.

She was diagnosed with the asbestos-linked cancer in October.

Terms of the settlement weren’t made public.

“The decision to resolve any particular case in no way changes our overall position that our talc is safe, is asbestos free and does not cause cancer,” Montagnino said in an emailed statement.

“We do not have any organized program to settle Johnson’s baby powder cases, nor are we planning a settlement program.”