A New Jersey man claims that inhaling asbestos-laden talcum powder gave him mesothelioma cancer. A jury in Middlesex County has heard arguments in the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, the baby powder manufacturer.
Johnson & Johnson has defended numerous lawsuits – with mixed results – asserting that its talc products caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. This is the first case in New Jersey, where J&J is headquartered, and the first lawsuit by a man claiming to be harmed by talcum powder.
Can talcum powder cause cancer?
Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer that is only caused by exposure to asbestos. Stephen Lanzo III of Verona, N.J., contends that breathing Johnson & Johnson talc products for many years led to his mesothelioma. His lawsuit purports to have evidence that their baby powders contained asbestos, and that he was never exposed to any other form of asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson counters that its products do not and have never contained asbestos. It also claims that Lanzo’s tissue samples reveal a type of asbestos found in other products that he could have been exposed to. No one disputes that asbestos causes mesothelioma. But a link between talc and mesothelioma (or any cancers) has not been definitively proven or disproven.
Verdicts for and against Johnson & Johnson
In November 2017, a California jury vindicated Johnson & Johnson in the only previous mesothelioma trial. But juries have awarded huge verdicts in five ovarian cancer lawsuits against J&J, including a staggering $417 million award to a different California woman (later reversed).
While the medical causation is debatable, some juries were swayed by evidence that J&J ignored or covered up a possible cancer link. Two of those verdicts have since been overturned, but the other three plaintiff verdicts – for $55 million, $70 million and $110 million – still stand for now
The New Jersey case will be closely watched by talc companies, product liability lawyers and anyone who ever used Johnson’s Baby Powder, Johnson’s Shower to Shower or similar products. Although it denies any link between talc and cancer and continues to sell talc products, Johnson & Johnson has introduced an alternative corn starch version of its baby and feminine hygiene powders.
Source: New Jersey Law Journal (www.law.com)