Johnson & Johnson hit with $25.75 million verdict in talc-asbestos case

Company says its talc does not contain asbestos

By JEN CHRISTENSEN, CNN
CNN

(CNN) - A California jury hit Johnson & Johnson and other companies with a $25.75 million verdict, saying the company was negligent and did not warn consumers about possible health risks from its Baby Powder.

The couple who brought the suit, Joanne and Gary Anderson, claim that she developed a kind of cancer after using the company's Baby Powder. The jury returned a $21.75 million compensatory damage amount on Tuesday and, after deliberating on punitive damages, came back with an additional $4 million.

In Los Angeles Superior Court, the Oregon woman said she was an avid bowler and used the powder in her shoes and on her hands for years. She also used it when her children were younger to help with diaper rash. Experts in court estimated that she used the powder more than 10,000 times.

Doctors diagnosed Anderson with pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs that is often linked to exposure to asbestos. The two minerals are often mined near each other, although since the 1970s, talc used in all consumer products has been required to be asbestos-free. Johnson & Johnson says its talc does not contain asbestos.

The jury said that J&J was liable for two-thirds of the compensatory amount and 100% of the punitive amount. Other companies named in the lawsuit -- including Honeywell/Bendix, Borg Warner and Fel-Pro -- are on the hook for the rest. Anderson said she was also exposed to asbestos when she watched her husband work on his car.

"We are extremely pleased that our clients have found a measure of justice, although nothing can truly compensate them for what they have lost. Our clients are hopeful that this verdict can further bring light to this unbelievable example of corporate misconduct," one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, David Greenstone, said in a news release.

Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder "has contained asbestos for decades," he said. "People need to know about this."

Johnson & Johnson said it will continue to fight these cases in court.

"We are disappointed with the verdict and we will begin the appeals process. We will continue to defend the safety of our product because it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma," spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement. "Over the past 50 years, multiple independent, non-litigation driven scientific evaluations have been conducted by respected academic institutions and government bodies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and none have found that the talc in Johnson's Baby Powder contains asbestos."

Similar cases are making their way through court, some involving asbestos exposure. In April, a New Jersey couple was awarded $117 million after the husband got cancer after decades of using talcum powder. An appeal in that case is pending.

A decision could come soon in another asbestos case in South Carolina. There are also thousands of separate cases in which women argue that using talcum powder in their genital area gave them ovarian cancer.

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