Jurors are set to weigh an investment banker’s claims that using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder for more than 30 years caused him to develop a deadly cancer linked to asbestos.
A New Jersey jury will begin deciding Wednesday whether Stephen Lanzo III can legitimately blame J&J’s iconic product for his mesothelioma, an often-fatal cancer tied to asbestos exposure. Lanzo, a 46-year-old banker with U.S. Trust Corp., accuses the world’s largest health-care company of hiding that its talc-based products have contained asbestos for nearly a half century.
J&J is seeking to fend off Lanzo’s claims as it grapples with a wave of cases targeting the company’s baby powder and former Shower-to-Shower product for allegedly causing life-threatening illnesses. About 6,600 women have sued the company blaming baby powder for causing their ovarian cancers.
Company officials denied Tuesday in closing arguments that its product has ever been tainted with asbestos and pointed to decades of testing that found talc purchased from units of Imerys SA, a French-based supplier, is clear of the carcinogen. Imerys also is a defendant in the case.
Several juries in St. Louis held J&J liable in ovarian cancers, but the first of those verdicts was thrown out on procedural grounds. Hundreds of cancer sufferers have sued J&J over the powder and the Shower-to-Shower product, which J&J sold to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. in 2012.
J&J won the first case to go trial over mesothelioma claims tied to its baby powder when a California jury ruled in November that the product wasn’t responsible for causing a 61-year-old woman’s cancer.
Other companies, including Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Proctor & Gamble Co., have also been accused of allowing asbestos to contaminate talc in their cosmetic products. Last year, Colgate settled a mesothelioma suit headed for trial in New Jersey over a woman’s claims that the company’s Cashmere Bouquet powder caused her cancer.
Lanzo’s case is the first to go to trial in state court in New Brunswick, New Jersey, less than a mile from J&J’s headquarters. He’s also the first male lead plaintiff to press claims that he and his family’s use of the company’s talc exposed him to asbestos from 1972 to 2003.
A J&J research scientist noted in a 1969 confidential memo, introduced as evidence in Lanzo’s trial, that tests at that time found asbestos in talc used in the company’s baby powder, and said the firm should ready itself for litigation if the information became public.
“J&J knew almost 49 years ago there was asbestos in their talc,” Moshe Maimon, one of Lanzo’s lawyers, told the seven-woman jury in his closing statement. He added the company has never warned consumers that tests have found asbestos in its baby powder.
Michael Brock, one of the company’s lawyers, disagreed. He said legitimate tests have never shown there’s ever been measurable amounts of asbestos in its talc products and says Lanzo’s mesothelioma came from other exposures.
Lanzo’s attorneys have twisted “themselves into pretzels” trying to show there’s asbestos in the talc and that it caused his disease, Brock argued. He said the New Jersey home Lanzo grew up in had asbestos insulation around pipes and his schools underwent multiple asbestos-abatement projects while he attended them.
The case is Lanzo v. Cyprus Amex Minerals Co., No. L00738516, Middlesex Superior Court (New Brunswick).
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