Yesterday, a jury ordered Johnson & Johnson and the French company Imerys Talc to pay $37 million in damages to a man who claims that his cancer was caused by asbestos contaminating J&J’s talcum powder products.
This is the first loss of this kind for the pharmaceutical company, whose flagship Johnson’s Baby Powder and other talc-based products like Shower-to-Shower have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. In fact, according to a report by Reuters, the company faces more than 6,600 talcum powder lawsuits across the country.
Many of those lawsuits are related to claims that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer. However, the most recent trial verdict had to do with a different claim: that asbestos contamination in J&J’s talc products led to the development of mesothelioma, a rare and extremely aggressive cancer that affects the linings of the lungs.
More Compensation Could Be Coming
The $37 million in compensatory damages may be just the beginning for the plaintiff, Stephen Lanzo, and his wife. Early next week, the jury will return to decide whether or not award the couple any punitive damages, in addition to what has already been awarded.
Update: The jury came back with an award of an additional $80 million for the plaintiffs, putting the grand total amount of asbestos-related compensation to be received by the Lanzos at $117 million. Both Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc have stated they will appeal the verdict.
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Compensatory damages are awarded to plaintiffs as compensation for various expenses incurred due to their injury or illness, such as medical bills and lost income. They also cover non-economic impacts such as disability, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are levied when the jury believes that the company should be held punished for making, selling and distributing harmful products. They are intended to encourage the company to change its policies and practices to avoid harming people in similar ways in the future.
It’s hard to know beforehand whether the jury will decide to award punitive damages in this talcum powder asbestos case, especially since this is the first such case that has gone against the company. If the jury does award additional money to the Lanzos, it could set a precedent for future cases like theirs.
Talcum Powder Cancer Concerns Are Growing
This latest verdict is just one of the thousands of cases that Johnson & Johnson is currently facing with respect to its talc-based baby powder and body powder products. Unlike the Lanzo case, however, many of those lawsuits are tied to claims that talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer.
These talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits are based on medical research going back as far as the 1970s showing that ovarian cancer tumors contained talc particles. While later studies have failed to find a broad link, there are mounting concerns that a link is at least possible, even if it hasn’t been definitively proven yet.
More to the point, Johnson & Johnson continued to promote its product as safe for use in daily feminine hygiene, even while internal memos showed that company officials were aware of the potential link to cancer. Furthermore, the company increased its marketing efforts to minority women, potentially endangering them even more.
Given the evidence, juries have been split over whether or not to hold the drugmaker accountable for talcum powder exposures. Some juries have awarded as much as $417 million, while others have found the defendants not to be liable for the injuries. In addition, J&J has aggressively pursued appeals in cases where it lost, and in some instances the corporation has succeeded in getting the amount it has to pay reduced or even overturned.
More Lawsuits on in Progress
With more than 6,600 lawsuits across the country currently in the system, there is still a long way to go. No case is exactly like the other, and each one will need to be assessed on its own merits.