A California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson and its former talc supplier Cyprus Mines Corp. to pay a woman with mesothelioma $29.5 million. The trial began on January 7th and wrapped up on March 13, 2019 after two days of deliberation. According to the verdict, all 12 jurors believed that Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder was a “substantial contributing factor” in plaintiff Teresa E. Leavitt’s terminal cancer.
Johnson & Johnson Failed to Warn Consumers
Ms. Leavitt claimed her mother had always used J&J Baby Powder in the 1960s, so she continued to use it on her hair and face for decades to follow. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017. According to her lawsuit, manufacturers, marketers, and suppliers failed to warn users that talc-containing powders posed serious health risks. Had she known her beauty products were contaminated with a deadly carcinogen, she would have never used it. Her attorneys argued that Johnson & Johnson was well aware that their talc contained traces of asbestos, yet they failed to alert the FDA or warn consumers. The World Health Organization says there is “no safe level of exposure to asbestos.”
Plaintiff Wins All Damages Sought — and Some for Loved Ones Too
The $29.5 million award included:
- $291,000 for past medical expenses
- $1 million for future medical expenses
- $1.2 million for loss of earnings
- $7 million for pain and suffering
- $15 million for future pain and suffering
The plaintiff’s partner, Dan McElroy, received $2 million for past loss of love and companionship, and $3 million for similar losses in the future.
Ultimately, jurors found Johnson & Johnson 78% liable, J&J Consumer Inc. 20 % liable, and Cyprus Mines 2 percent liable. The defendants say they will appeal the verdict because “Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer.”
Verdict is a Whopper, but Not the Biggest
Johnson & Johnson faces over 12,000 similar talcum powder cancer lawsuits, alleging that regular use of Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower have contributed to ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestos-related cancers can take up to 50 years to develop, but prove fatal within 12-24 months of diagnosis.
The $29.5 million verdict is a large one, but by no means the biggest to date. In April 2018, New Jersey jurors awarded mesothelioma sufferer Stephen Lanzo $117 million. In May 2017, a St. Louis jury ordered J&J to pay Lois Slemp $70 million. Another St. Louis jury awarded Gloria Ristesund $55 million in May 2016 for ovarian cancer resulting in hysterectomy. Past wins are no guarantors of future successes, yet these early bellwether trials often set a precedent and help direct litigators to the strongest strategies.
Three months ago, Johnson & Johnson lost an appeal to overturn a $4.7 billion Missouri jury verdict to compensate 22 women with ovarian cancer. Though they cited “serious procedural and evidentiary errors” throughout the trials and maintain that the jury awards “are not medical, scientific, or regulatory conclusions about a product,” the company has set aside at least $100 billion for ongoing litigation expenses.
- CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/14/jury-orders-johnson–johnson-to-pay-29-million-in-cancer-trial.html
- Fox News, https://www.foxnews.com/health/woman-with-cancer-who-sued-jj-awarded-29m-by-california-jury