By Tina Bellon
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson and its talc suppliers on Wednesday were hit with a $21.7 million jury verdict in a lawsuit by a woman who said she developed cancer after being exposed to asbestos in the company’s Baby Powder.
The verdict by a Los Angeles jury came down in the case of 68-year-old Joanne Anderson, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer closely linked to asbestos exposure, and marked the second trial loss for J&J over similar allegations.
Of the $21.7 million the jury awarded in compensatory damages, J&J was assigned 67 percent, with the rest distributed among other defendants.
J&J has vehemently denied that its talc products contain asbestos or cause cancer, citing decades of testing by independent laboratories and scientists. But plaintiffs claim that asbestos and talc, which are closely linked minerals, are intermingled in the mining process, making it impossible to remove the carcinogenic substance.
Anderson and her husband in 2017 had sued J&J, a unit of Imerys SA , Cyprus Amax Minerals, a unit of Brenntag, Honeywell International and other local talc suppliers, but it was not immediately clear which of those companies were subject to the remaining damages award.
Damages could still grow as the jury debates whether to award punitive damages, Anderson’s lawyer, Chris Panatier, said, declining to comment further.
“While we are disappointed with this decision, the jury has further deliberations to conduct in this trial and we will reserve additional comment until the case is fully completed,” J&J said in a statement.
J&J has also been battling some 6,000 cases claiming its baby powder caused ovarian cancer, but the talc litigation has taken a new focus in recent months with plaintiffs claiming the widely used product causes mesothelioma due to alleged asbestos contamination.
Wednesday’s verdict marks the second trial loss for J&J over allegations that its talc-based products contain asbestos.
A New Jersey state court jury in April ordered J&J and its talc supplier, a unit of Imerys S, to pay $117 million to a man who alleged he developed mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure from JJ Baby Powder. An appeal is pending.
A California jury in November last year cleared JJ of liability in another mesothelioma lawsuit.
The company and Imerys, as well as a local unit of U.S. drugstore chain Rite Aid, are also facing another mesothelioma trial in a South Carolina court.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Richard Chang)