J&J, Kenvue Told to Pay $45 Million to Baby Powder User’s Family

Johnson & Johnson and Kenvue Inc. were ordered to pay $45 million to the family of an Illinois woman who blamed the companies’ baby powders for giving her a fatal cancer in what was the first verdict against the J&J spinoff in a decade-long litigation over the product.

Jurors hearing the case in Chicago late Friday concluded Kenvue was 70% responsible for the death of Theresa Garcia, a mother of six and a grandmother, who died in 2020 after developing mesothelioma, a type of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Her family alleged J&J and Kenvue’s predecessor firm sold their talcum-based baby powder knowing it was tainted with asbestos, according to court filings.

The panel found J&J and one of its units were responsible for the remaining 30% of the verdict, one of the first wins by a talc plaintiff since a judge last year threw out the bankruptcy filing of a J&J unit aimed at forcing a settlement of the talc cases. A Florida jury rejected similar claims against the company on Thursday.

J&J has maintained that its talc-based products don’t cause cancer and that it has marketed its baby powder appropriately for more than a century.

Officials of Kenvue, which now sells baby powder, confirmed earlier this month it no longer makes or sells a talc-based version of the product. Prior to the spinoff, J&J said it would take talc off the North American market by 2020 and worldwide by December 2023 and switch to a cornstarch replacement. It cited sliding sales for the move.

Melissa Witt, a Kenvue spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to an email Saturday seeking comment on the verdict. Erik Haas, the head of J&J’s in-house litigation section, said the company would appeal the jury’s finding. “We expect to prevail as we typically do with aberrant adverse verdicts that have no basis in the law or science and are predicated on clearly erroneous rulings by the trial court,” Haas said in an emailed statement.

J&J is among a host of big drugmakers that divested or are planning to divest themselves of lower-margin, yet dependably profitable, consumer units in order to focus on the high-stakes business of making new medicines. J&J generated $13.2 billion in cash via the offering of Kenvue debt and sale of its shares. Kenvue is now home to popular J&J products such as its Tylenol painkiller, Listerine mouthwash and the new cornstarch-based version of baby powder.

As part of the spinoff, Kenvue secured an indemnity agreement from J&J to cover any talc liability that arises in North America, according to securities filings. Kenvue must deal with talc verdicts generated by courts outside that area, the filings show.

Garcia’s family had been ready to go to trial in 2021 when J&J’s LTL Management unit filed its first Chapter 11 case seeking to foster a settlement of all current and future talc cases, said Jessica Dean, the family’s lawyer. Its only after that case — along with a second attempt to use the bankruptcy courts to corral the talc litigation — was thrown out that the family was able to have a jury hear its case, Dean said.

“After years of delay caused by Johnson & Johnson’s bad faith abuse of the bankruptcy system,” the family is grateful jurors saw through the ‘deceptions’ put forth by J&J and Kenvue about whether talc can cause cancer, Dean said in a release. “The defendants knew that talc contains asbestos impurities that were mined and put in the bottles of baby powder J&J sold,” she added.

In the Florida case, a state court jury rejected claims by Patricia Matthey’s family that her 2016 ovarian cancer was caused by using baby powder tainted with asbestos. After the verdict, Haas said the company was vindicated by the panel’s ruling. “The jury appropriately found that talc is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer, which is the same outcome the company achieved in 16 of 17 ovarian cases tried to date,” Haas said in an emailed statement.

In Garcia’s Chicago case, her family contends the plaintiff was a long-time user of J&J’s talc-based baby powder and used the product on her children and grandchildren. The family contends J&J was aware of concerns about asbestos in its talc and failed to warn consumers. Stephanie Salcedo, Garcia’s daughter, filed the case on behalf of her family.

“J&J knew that asbestos exposure, including asbestos exposure from inhaling asbestos-containing talc, can and does cause fatal diseases such as mesothelioma,” the family said in its lawsuit against the companies.

J&J reported earnings this week, beating estimates in a step towards boosting profitability after the spinoff of Kenvue.

The Chicago case is Salcedo v. Cyprus Amax Minerals, No.020L004505, Calendar, J1 24067608, Cook County Circuit Court (Chicago).

Top photo: SAN ANSELMO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 18: Containers of Johnson’s baby powder made by Johnson and Johnson sits on a shelf at Jack’s Drug Store on October 18, 2019 in San Anselmo, California. Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Johnson’s baby powder, announced a voluntary recall of 33,000 bottles of baby powder after federal regulators found trace amounts of asbestos in a single bottle of the product. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images).