The first of dozens of lawsuits last scheduled for 2019 over the presence of talc in Johnson & Johnson baby powder began last week.
Opening statements began last Monday in a lawsuit claiming that Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) talc baby powder causes cancer. The jury heard in opening statements arguments over whether J&J’s talc products contain asbestos and the company knew it could cause cancer in users.
About 11,700 lawsuits have been filed against the company over allegations that its baby powder causes cancer. The lawsuits link J&J’s baby powder to ovarian cancer, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The latest lawsuit was filed Terry Leavitt, who is represented by Joseph Satterley, who alongside other lawyers won a $117 million compensation verdict in April 2018 for a man who claimed his mesothelioma was caused by J&J’s talc products. That ruling is under appeal.
Leavitt’s lawsuit was filed at the Alameda Superior Court in Oakland, where Satterley argued in his opening statements that J&J intentionally marketed contaminated baby powder knowing fully well it caused cancer.
J&J Admits Talc Mined In Its Korean Mine Contained Asbestos That Were Harmless
Diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017, Leavitt claimed her parents applied J&J talc powders on her during her early years in the Philippines where she was born. She claims the product they used was manufactured with talc mined from South Korea. Leavitt’s parents moved back to the United States in 1968.
Satterley argued in court that independent investigations showed that Korean talc mined in the 1960s and 1970s tested positive for asbestos, just like talc mined in the U.S. within the same period. But J&J countered in court filings that fibers found in the Korean talc mined at this period were not asbestos and cannot be classified as such since their experts ruled they were harmless.
Geologists agree that it is possible for cancer-causing asbestos and harmless asbestos known as “non-asbestiform” rock to occur together within the same talc deposits.
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Joined as a co-defendant in the lawsuit is Imerys Talc America, an affiliate of French Imerys SA. Representatives for Imerys denied that their talc contained asbestos, caused cancers, or was responsible for Leavitt’s ailment.
J&J claims that over several decades rigorous tests had been carried out on their talc and no asbestos contamination had ever been caused. Both J&J and Imerys maintained that numerous studies vindicate their products as safe and uncapable of causing cancer.
However, Leavitt’s lawsuit is the first to come after a Reuters special report published in December 2018 revealed numerous J&J internal documents from the 1970s to early 2000s which seemed to show that the company was aware its talc contained asbestos but deliberately hid this fact from the public.
Following the December report, J&J’s stocks dropped significantly. The prospect of courts awarding several millions of dollars against the company in future talc cases worried investors, so many sold off their stakes. Last Monday, the company’s shares closed at $127 – 14% lower than what its value on December 13.
Of the 11 cases so far against J&J alleging their products contained asbestos, three have resulted in wins for the plaintiffs and three have been ruled in J&J’s favor. The other five cases resulted in hung juries. Of the three cases ruled against J&J damages were awarded as high as $4.69 billion, which came in a July 2018 ovarian cancer verdict brought by multiple plaintiffs. J&J has appealed all of the rulings against them.