(June 13, 2019) – A California jury ruled yesterday that asbestos in Johnson & Johnson and Colgate Palmolive’s talcum powder products likely caused a woman’s cancer. The jury awarded the dying woman $12 million. It was the latest of several cases J&J has lost over its Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower talc products. Thousands of similar lawsuits remain pending across the country instate and federal courts.
The 12-member state court jury deliberated for five days before concluding it is more likely than not that J&J’s baby powder and Shower to Shower, along with Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet, contained asbestos that caused Ms. Patricia Schmitz’s mesothelioma.
Negligence, Design Defect, Failure to Warn, Concealment
The jury found both companies liable for negligence, design defect, failure to warn, and concealment. The jury did not determine whether J&J and Colgate acted with “malice, oppression or fraud.” Such a finding could have warranted punitive damages. The jury were also unable to find J&J liable for another intentional misrepresentation claim for advertising company talc products as “pure,” in spite of knowing they could be contaminated with asbestos.
The $12M jury award included approximately $2 million in economic damages and $10 million in noneconomic damages. The jury found J&J 30 percent responsible, its subsidiary Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. 10 percent responsible. The jury found Colgate 40 percent responsible. They also found non-party Avon Products Inc. 20 percent responsible.
The highly contentious trial began back on April 23 in Oakland, California. Ms. Schmitz claimed decades of exposure to J&J and Colgate talcum products was a substantial factor in causing her cancer. The 61-year-old was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018. Her attorneys told the jury that she is not expected to live past this summer (2019).
J&J Execs knew Talc contained Asbestos
The jury heard wildly-conflicting expert testimony from mineralogists, pathologists, epidemiologists, microbiologists, and microscopists. Ms. Schmitz’s experts and attorneys pointed to dozens of internal corporate documents since the 1960s which they claimed show Colgate and J&J executives knew their companies’ talc products could contain asbestos.
Ms. Schmitz’s attorneys argued that the companies’ corporate executives downplayed the risks, skewed lab results, promoted imprecise talc testing methods, refused to replace talc with non-toxic cornstarch, failed to warn consumers and federal regulators.
Both sides complained to Judge Frank Roesch throughout the proceedings that their opponent had mentioned topics which he had specifically excluded from trial. On two occasions, J&J attorneys asked the judge to declare a mistrial. He rejected both mistrial bids, called the second request “ridiculous.”
Sanctions for J&J Attorney?
Judge Roesch said during closings that he would entertain a request for sanctions against J&J’s counsel Alexander Calfo. The plaintiff’s attorneys argued that J&J’s attorney, Mr. Calfo, repeatedly violated the judge’s pretrial orders during J&J’s closing arguments. They also argued that he attacked the court. A June 25 date is set to hear that motion.
Growing List of Verdicts against J&J for Talc Products
This latest verdict adds to a growing list of plaintiffs’ wins in jury trials over claims that J&J’s talc products were contaminated with asbestos and caused their users’ cancers.
Earlier in 2019, another California jury awarded a woman and her family nearly $29.5 million over similar claims against J&J and talc supplier Cyprus Mines. In 2018, a New Jersey jury awarded Stephen Lanzo III and his wife $117 million. State judges in both cases have since refused to throw out or reduce the verdicts.
In May 2019, a New York jury hit J&J and its talc supplier with a $325 million verdict that included $300 million in punitive damages. That jury found the company’s talc powder likely caused Donna Olson’s pleural mesothelioma. In a similar case in South Carolina, however, a jury cleared J&J of similar allegations.
J&J currently faces a federal probe and federal multidistrict litigation in New Jersey over claims that some of its talc products caused cancer. It also faces at least four securities suits over the allegations of asbestos contamination, according to its February 2019 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
J&J was also hit with whopping $4.69 billion verdict in another talc cancer case, and Colgate was hit with a $13 million verdict in 2015.
Imery’s Bankruptcy Bailout
Imerys Talc America Inc., a J&J supplier, was originally named as a defendant in Ms. Schmitz’ complaint, but avoided trial after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2019. Imerys said it faces up to $100 million in debt from a litany of lawsuits over claims that talc which it produced contained asbestos.
Jury awards $12M In Talc Suit against J&J, Colgate
The case is Schmitz v. Johnson & Johnson et al., case number RG18923615, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Alameda.