Jury Selection Begins in NJ for Asbestos-Related Talc Lawsuit

It’s been a long time coming, and now the jury in the first asbestos-related talcum powder lawsuit trial against Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey state court is finally being chosen. This jury selection process is happening in advance of the opening statements, which are scheduled to take place on January 16.

According to the Courtroom View Network, the trial is taking place in Middlesex County Superior Court before Judge Ana Viscomi, who is supervising all of New Jersey’s asbestos lawsuits under a process known as multicounty litigation (MCL). It will be the first trial faced by Johnson & Johnson in relation to the accusation that its talcum powder products contained asbestos, leading to the deadly cancer of the lung linings known as mesothelioma.

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The Danger of Asbestos in Talcum Powder

Already facing thousands of lawsuits due to claims that its talcum powder products cause ovarian cancer in women who use them on or near their genitals, Johnson & Johnson is now being confronted with a new wave of lawsuits arguing that those very same products have been contaminated with asbestos.

At one time asbestos was considered something of a miracle mineral, due to is ability to resist fire, heat and chemical reactions. However, mid-20th century research linked the fibrous material not only to mesothelioma but a variety of other cancers as well, including but not limited to:

  • Lung cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancers
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Cancer of the larynx
  • Cancers of various abdominal organs, like the kidneys and gallbladder

Chemically related to talc (they are both forms of silicate), asbestos frequently occurs in or near natural talc deposits. That makes it easy for asbestos to contaminate talc supplies, where consumers can eventually become exposed to it.

Stephen and Kendra Lanzo, the plaintiffs in the current case, have argued that Johnson & Johnson knew its talcum powder-based cosmetics – such as Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower Body Powder – were contaminated with asbestos and failed to warn consumers about the potential danger of using their products. In return, the consumer products company insists that its products have never contained asbestos, and that tests performed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys are flawed.

Difficulties of the Asbestos Talcum Powder Lawsuit

There are two primary difficulties facing the Lanzos in their fight to prove that Johnson & Johnson is responsible for causing mesothelioma through its asbestos-contaminated talc. The first has to do with the timelines involved, and the second has to do with other recent trials that have taken place in other states.

Given that mesothelioma can take up to fifty years to develop, proving exposure to specific products that still contain asbestos can often be very difficult. Plaintiffs will need to show that the baby powder they used contained asbestos – a claim which J&J vigorously denies – as well as that the particular exposure led ultimately to a cancer diagnosis. While not impossible to prove, especially if the plaintiffs have older product samples and internal documentation, making such a case will likely be an uphill battle for the Lanzos.

Secondly, it’s likely that both sides are mindful of a similar California case that ended in November with the jury finding for the defendants. In that case, J&J gave jurors a number of alternative explanations plaintiff Tina Herford’s mesothelioma diagnosis, such as radiation, and claimed that asbestos tests of its talcum powder products were riddled with false positives. Ultimately, the jury decided there was enough doubt as to Herford’s claims that it could not rule in her favor.

However, it should be noted that different states often have different requirements for considering evidence and determining damages. A single win in California does not necessarily mean that the company will win in New Jersey. While J&J will undoubtedly employ many of the same arguments, the Lanzos may be able to make a better connection than Herford did.

Watching with Interest

The trial is just beginning, but you can bet that a lot of people will be watching the process and its outcomes with interest. There are millions – possibly billions – of dollars at stake here, and a lot of people will be looking to see if that money will go to cancer patients to help pay medical bills and related expenses, or whether Johnson & Johnson will be successful in keeping its talcum powder profits.

Finally, if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you should talk to a lawyer right away. Asbestos is the only known cause of the disease, and you may have a good chance of receiving compensation for your exposure to this deadly carcinogen.