A trial began last week in the Darlington County Court of Common Pleas alleging that Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and Rite Aid, the company that sold this product to the plaintiff, were responsible for the plaintiff’s mesothelioma diagnosis. This is the first case that has also named a drugstore as a defendant in an asbestos talcum powder liability lawsuit.
The plaintiff, Bertila Boyd-Bostic, and her loved ones believe her pericardial mesothelioma diagnosis was a result of decades of asbestos exposure from contaminated talcum powder products. Boyd-Bostic passed away in 2017 at just 30 years old, only about a year after her diagnosis.
Boyd-Bostic and similar cases have alleged that Johnson & Johnson knew their talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos, yet still put their baby powder and similar products on the market for consumers. Though over 6,000 of these lawsuits are specifically tied to the products causing ovarian cancer, there have been a growing number of cases citing a mesothelioma diagnosis after years of using the contaminated talcum powder.
Evidence from these lawsuits has shown that Johnson & Johnson likely knew about the potential asbestos contamination since at least the 1970s. Studies came out that showed the talc mines the company relied on in Vermont were contaminated with asbestos, and that the pharmaceutical giant was well aware. Even trace amounts of asbestos put consumers at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases later in life, especially loyal consumers like Boyd-Bostic who relied on the product daily.
Throughout all these trials, Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier, Imerys, have maintained that the talcum powder products have never contained asbestos. A J&J lawyer said in an interview that millions of consumers have used their baby powder and never developed diseases, since the talcum powder is safe and free of asbestos.
So far, the company has been rather successful in winning or reducing verdicts in these cases upon appeal. But just last month, Johnson & Johnson faced its first loss in a similar mesothelioma case in New Jersey. The jury awarded the plaintiff a verdict of $117 million, $80 million of which was in punitive damages. Analysts wondered if this landmark victory would help set a precedent for future lawsuits like Boyd-Bostic’s. An appeal for the case is currently pending, and the outcome could have a significant impact going forward.