Johnson & Johnson Loses $25 Million Talc Verdict in New York

By Margaret Cronin Fisk and Jef Feeley | May 22, 2019

Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay at least $25 million to a woman who said she contracted a rare asbestos-related cancer through decades of daily use of J&J’s Baby Powder or its other talc product, Shower to Shower.

The New York verdict for plaintiff Donna Olson, 66, and her husband against J&J and its consumer-products unit only reflects the award of compensatory damages. Jurors will return next week to consider assessing punitive damages against the companies over their mishandling of the talc products.

J&J faces more than 14,000 claims that its powders caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure. The company denies its products ever contained the carcinogen and argues talc doesn’t cause the life-threatening illnesses. Olson has mesothelioma located in her lungs, according to court filings.

Also on Tuesday, a South Carolina jury concluded that J&J wasn’t liable for a woman’s mesothelioma that she blamed on asbestos in the company’s baby powder. J&J had the case removed to federal court last month, but a judge sent it back to state court for trial.

The company’s record at trial has been mixed. It lost a $29 million jury award in a California mesothelioma case March 13 but won a New Jersey trial on March 27, the same day it settled three cases. J&J also won in California on April 5. A trial is ongoing in California.

J&J will appeal, said Kim Montagnino, a company spokeswoman. “This trial suffered significant legal and evidentiary errors — one of the most egregious being the demonstrably false testimony from the plaintiff’s central expert,” she said.

The company contends William Longo, a scientist who has testified for many plaintiffs in talc cases, lied in earlier trials about where he obtained talc samples in which he found traces of asbestos. Judge Manuel Mendez in Manhattan allowed Longo to testify on Olson’s behalf.

The verdict is the 10th win for talc plaintiffs’ since trials over cancer claims tied to J&J’s talc-based powders began in 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. J&J has won seven defense verdicts while jurors deadlocked in three other cases. The company also settled four cases. Some of the plaintiffs’ verdicts have been overturned while others are still on appeal.

Olson, a former Manhattan resident who now lives in Delaware, testified she used baby powder on herself from age eight until after she was married in 1984. Olson said the powder would create a cloud when she applied it and she breathed in some of the talc particles, according to court filings.

Mendez ruled before trial that because Olson argued Johnson & Johnson put “corporate profits and reputation over the health and safety of consumers,” jurors could weigh awarding punishment damages if they ruled in the woman’s favor.

The New York case is Olson v. Brenntag, 190328/2017, New York Supreme Court (Manhattan). The South Carolina case is Beth-Anee F. Johnson v. Johnson & Johnson, 18-CP40-01781, South Carolina’s Court of Common Pleas, Fifth Judicial Circuit (Columbia).

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