Johnson & Johnson was dealt another setback yesterday in the massive litigation involving its talcum powder products, as a New Jersey jury awarded $80 million in punitive damages to a plaintiff who alleged his life-long use of Baby Powder was responsible for his mesothelioma diagnosis.
Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $55 million, while its supplier, Imery’s Talc America, was assessed a $25 million portion of the punitive award. (Case No. L00738516, Middlesex Superior Court)
Plaintiff Stephen Lanzo III, 46, alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder was tainted with asbestos and was the only possible explanation for his mesothelioma diagnosis. During the two-month long trial, Lanzo’s attorneys presented internal documents that suggested officials at Johnson & Johnson and Imery’s were concerned that the talc used to make Baby Powder could contain asbestos.
Lanzo further charged that Johnson & Johnson had even made numerous unsuccessful attempts in the 1970s to remove asbestos from its talc. The company intentionally failed to warn the public of this potential risk in order to protect sales of one of its signature products, according to his complaint.
Just last week, the same Middlesex County Superior Court jury awarded the plaintiff $37 million in compensatory damages, bringing his total award to $117 million. Johnson & Johnson was found 70% liable for the damages incurred by Lanzo and his wife, while Imery’s was found 30% responsible.
The case marks the first time a jury has found Johnson & Johnson liable in a talcum powder lawsuit involving mesothelioma. The nation’s first such trial concluded in November, after a California Superior Court jury found for the company.
Separately, Johnson & Johnson is named defendant in more than 6,600 product liability lawsuits filed on behalf of women who allegedly developed ovarian cancer due to their long-term use of the company’s talc-based powders for feminine hygiene purposes.
Since February 2015, a half-dozen talcum powder ovarian cancer plaintiffs have been awarded multi-million-dollar judgments ranging from $55 million to $417 million, though two of those verdicts were later overturned.