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Jury sides with J&J in first trial linking talc product to mesothelioma

The jury found that Johnson & Johnson did not negligently manufacture or design its baby powder and Shower to Shower products or fail to warn that its talcum powder products caused mesothelioma. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The jury found that Johnson & Johnson did not negligently manufacture or design its baby powder and Shower to Shower products or fail to warn that its talcum powder products caused mesothelioma. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A California jury has sided with Johnson & Johnson in the first trial over whether its iconic baby powder caused a woman to get mesothelioma.

Thursday’s verdict came in a trial that began on Oct. 19 in Los Angeles Superior Court. The jury found on Thursday that Johnson & Johnson did not negligently manufacture or design its baby powder and Shower to Shower products or fail to warn that its talcum powder products caused mesothelioma, according to coverage of the trial by Courtroom View Network. The jury also sided with Imerys Talc America Inc., a talc supplier, in its verdict.

Related: Talc, product liability insurance and recent class action lawsuits

Separate from cases alleging ovarian cancer


The trial is separate from the nearly 5,000 cases alleging Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products caused women to get ovarian cancer. In those cases, juries in Missouri and California have come out with five verdicts ranging from $55 million to $417 million — though two awards have since been tossed out. Unlike those cases, which have focused on the alleged links between Johnson & Johnson’s talc products and ovarian cancer, the mesothelioma cases target whether cosmetic talc products contained asbestos, which is known to cause mesothelioma.

“We are pleased with today’s verdict and believe that the dismissal of talc lawsuits in New Jersey and verdict reversals in Missouri and California have forced plaintiff attorneys to pivot to yet another baseless theory,” said Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman. “Johnson’s baby powder has been around since 1894 and it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. We will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s baby powder in future trials.”

Lead plaintiffs attorney Chris Panatier of Dallas-based Simon Greenstone Panatier said the verdict would have little effect on future trials.

'Extremely complicated'


“The talc/asbestos case is extremely complicated, dealing with all manner of microscopic techniques and mineralogy etc.,” he wrote in an email. “It’s our job to make all of that accessible and though I tried to do that, perhaps it wasn’t enough. Also, from my conversations with a few of the jurors, it sounded like this simply was not a jury that was going to find for a plaintiff. I accept that. It happens.”

He said Johnson & Johnson was still selling “contaminated baby powder.”

“It is a matter of time before juries begin holding them to account,” he wrote. “We just missed on the first one. ”

Asbestos claims over talc-based cosmetics


The trial is the latest to bring asbestos claims over talc-based cosmetic products. Other suits have been brought against Colgate-Palmolive Co. and talc distributor Whittaker, Clark & Daniels Inc. over products like Old Spice, Cashmere Bouquet and Desert Flower. In 2013, a New Jersey jury in Middlesex County Superior Court awarded a $1.6 million verdict against Whittaker, Clark & Daniels. On April 7, a Manhattan Supreme Court jury awarded $16.5 million to a plaintiff in a case against Whittaker, Clark & Daniels.

Related: 10 emerging developments in liability insurance

On Oct. 27, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $18.07 million against Whittaker, Clark & Daniels in another case handled by Panatier. In that case, the firm represented former Los Angeles mayoral aide Philip Depoian, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015.

Simon Greenstone also secured a $13 million asbestos verdict against Colgate-Palmolive in 2015.

Colgate-Palmolive has moved to dismiss the first asbestos-related talc case in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas after a judge barred two plaintiffs’ experts from testifying on some causation issues.

In the Los Angeles case, the plaintiff, Tina Herford, claimed that she got mesothelioma after using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.

Woman used product for 35 years


“She used the product for 35 years and got mesothelioma,” said Panatier at Monday’s closing arguments, according to Courtroom View Network’s coverage. He dotted the courtroom with actual red flags to demonstrate that Johnson & Johnson knew it had an asbestos problem but didn’t do anything to change its talc products.

In court, defense lawyers argued that other exposures — such as therapeutic radiation treatments and clothing worn by her father, who was exposed to asbestos at his job — may have caused Herford’s mesothelioma.

“It’s a red flag about whether you’re hearing the whole story from the plaintiffs,” said Johnson & Johnson attorney Morton Dubin, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in New York, in closing arguments on Monday, according to Courtroom View Network.

Related: Up in smoke: E-cigarette risks

Amanda Bronstad (abronstad@alm.com) is the ALM staff reporter covering class actions and mass torts nationwide. She is based in Los Angeles.

Originally published on The Recorder. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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