Johnson & Johnson lost its first asbestos talcum powder lawsuit last week, ordered by a jury to pay Stephen Lanzo and his wife $37 million in compensatory damages. Lanzo claimed his regular use of the company’s talcum powder since 1972, which has been found to be contaminated by asbestos, led to his mesothelioma diagnosis years later.
The trial, which has been ongoing for over two months already, will reconvene this week to determine if the company owes any further punitive damages. The jury found both Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, Inc., liable.
The company is currently facing over 6,600 lawsuits in relation to their talcum powder. Though the majority of these cases are in connection with later ovarian cancer diagnoses, there have already been several lawsuits in regard to mesothelioma. Most recently, Johnson & Johnson won an asbestos talcum powder lawsuit against a mesothelioma victim in Los Angeles in November.
The company has stated many times that they stand behind their products and there is no asbestos contamination of their talcum powder. Documents have revealed in these ongoing trials, however, that the company was aware of possible contamination from several of their talc sources. Plaintiffs in these cases are seeking to hold the company liable for their wrongdoing and not properly warning consumers.
In a statement, the company explained their disappointment in the verdict, but would not further comment until the trial’s completion. Many expect the company to appeal, as they have appealed every other similar lawsuit in which they have lost. So far, they have been rather successful in having verdicts overturned or reduced. After the trial’s expected completion this month, all eyes will be on Johnson & Johnson to see if they are able to appeal.
This trial has the potential to help pave the way for future talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson and other similar companies, like Colgate Palmolive, should the jury decide this week to add punitive damages. While compensatory damages can help make up for lost income and cover expensive medical bills, punitive damages are not awarded as regularly and may be considered as a punishment when a defendant’s behavior or product is particularly harmful. Should the jury award the Lanzos further punitive damages, it could set a precedent for future cases.