Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a California jury to pay $4 million in punitive damages to a 68-year-old woman who claimed her deadly cancer was caused by asbestos in the company’s baby powder.
The jury awarded $21.7 million in compensatory damages Wednesday to Joanne Anderson, finding J&J 67 percent responsible for her mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Anderson’s lawyers said she was exposed to baby powder laced with the carcinogen when she used it on her children and while bowling.
J&J said it would appeal. “We will continue to defend the safety of our product because it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma,” said spokeswoman Carol Goodrich. Independent, “non-litigation driven” studies have found no asbestos in J&J’s baby powder, she said.
The verdict against J&J was linked to company documents produced in the trial, said Chris Panatier, plaintiffs’ lawyer. “When jurors are given the opportunity to see internal documents and conduct of J&J — things the FDA and government haven’t seen — there is only one choice in how to rule.”
It’s the second jury in less than two months to conclude J&J sold its iconic baby powder knowing it contained at least trace amounts of asbestos and posed a cancer risk to users. In April, jurors in J&J’s hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey, ordered the company and a unit of Imerys SA, a talc miner, to pay a total of $117 million to a banker who claimed his cancer was tied to baby powder use.
Litigation over J&J’s baby powder has been accelerating. The company is facing claims by more than 9,000 plaintiffs, primarily connecting talc to ovarian cancer, according to a May 1 securities filing. J&J didn’t break out the number of ovarian cancer cases versus the number of mesothelioma cases allegedly tied to talc. The company is currently in trial in South Carolina in another asbestos talc claim.
Anderson argued she used J&J’s talc products on her children in the 1970s and on herself in the 1980s and 1990s when she would powder her hands and feet while bowling. She claimed at one point, she went through two bottles a month.
J&J’s lawyers countered Anderson’s mesothelioma may not have been caused by asbestos in talc, but could have occurred “spontaneously.” They also said the woman had a family history of lung and breast cancer.
In their verdict, jurors said that J&J and its unit were responsible for 67 percent of the award to Anderson. The jury found that one-third of Anderson’s exposure to asbestos came from her husband’s work on asbestos-containing brakes; no company is liable for that part of the jury’s findings.
The case is Anderson v. Borg Warner Corp., BC 666513, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (West Covina).
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