Earlier this week, jury selection began for the first asbestos-related talcum powder lawsuit to go to trial in New Jersey. Opening statements for the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson are scheduled for January 16th. Judge Ana Viscomi will oversee the proceedings in the Middlesex County Supreme Court, as she is supervising all asbestos lawsuits in the state under a multicounty litigation (MCL).
This will be the second trial Johnson & Johnson faces in regard to a claim that use of their talcum powder products led to mesothelioma years later. Reports have shown there are many talc deposits that have been contaminated with asbestos, since the two minerals are often located very close together in natural deposits. When miners extract the talc, they may also disturb the natural asbestos and mix the two minerals.
The plaintiffs in this upcoming trial claim Johnson & Johnson have known about their talc products being contaminated for decades, but didn’t do anything to warn consumers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has had legislation in place since 1973 requiring testing of all talc to ensure there is no asbestos present. Evidence in other talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson have shown several reports since 1973 indicating they were aware of their talc sources providing talc containing traces of two kinds of asbestos.
The company’s disregard for warning consumers against the health risks of talc, even beyond potential asbestos contamination, has led to thousands of lawsuits, mostly from women who claim their ovarian cancer developed as a result of using these same talc products. So far, juries have awarded plaintiffs in these cases hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite these losses, the company refuses to settle, maintaining that their products are safe and did not cause ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.
This upcoming trial, however, may help set the tone for future talcum powder lawsuits linked to mesothelioma. All eyes will be on this new lawsuit as it begins, since it is only the second claim of this sort to go to trial. In November, Johnson & Johnson won a similar case in California court against a woman who claimed she developed mesothelioma from using their talc-based products, including Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. Her lawyer reasoned one verdict doesn’t prove the company is innocent, and he was sure future juries would hold them liable.
Though Johnson & Johnson has won its only mesothelioma-related talcum powder lawsuit thus far, other companies with similar products have lost several of these cases in recent years.
Colgate-Palmolive and Whittaker, Clark and Daniels have both been found liable in similar lawsuits tried in 2015 and 2016, with $18 million being the highest verdict awarded thus far.
This upcoming trial is scheduled to run through February, and it will be interesting to see if a different state with different requirements for evaluating evidence and determining damages will lead to a verdict against the defendant.