A woman who claims asbestos in Johnson & Johnson products caused her deadly cancer was awarded $29.4 million by a California jury on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
A jury in a California Superior Court in Oakland determined that defective Baby Powder was a “substantial contributing factor” to Terry Leavitt’s mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that affects the tissue that coats internal organs, the Associated Press reports. Leavitt said she often used two talcum-powder-based Johnson & Johnson products — Baby Powder and Shower to Shower powder — in the 1960s and 1970s, and claims they contributed to her 2017 cancer diagnosis, according to Reuters.
Johnson & Johnson said in a statement provided to the reporter that it plans to appeal the decision, citing “serious procedural and evidentiary errors.”
“We are disappointed with today’s verdict and will pursue an appeal because Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer,” the statement says. “Plaintiffs’ attorneys have fundamentally failed to show that Johnson’s Baby Powder contains asbestos, and their own experts concede that they are not recognizing the accepted definition of asbestos and are ignoring crucial distinctions between minerals that are asbestos and minerals that are not. We respect the legal process and reiterate that jury verdicts are not medical, scientific or regulatory conclusions about a product.”
Nonetheless, 2018 investigations from the New York and Reuters suggested that the company feared for decades that some of its Baby Powder could be tainted by asbestos, a type of carcinogenic mineral that has been linked to cancers of lungs, larynx and ovaries, as well as mesothelioma, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Asbestos is found insulation, roofing and some plastics, but according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the naturally occurring minerals also turn up in the pure form of talc, which is the basis for talcum powder like that used in Johnson & Johnson’s products. (In the 1970s, U.S. cosmetics companies began formulating their products with talc that is free from detectable amounts of asbestos.)
While asbestos is classified as a known carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and other groups, the ACS says the science on whether talcum powder causes cancer is more ambiguous. Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly pointed to studies that have not shown such a link.
That hasn’t stopped people around the country from filing lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. The company is currently embroiled in roughly 13,000 lawsuits brought by people who claim the company’s products caused or contributed to serious health issues, the AP reports.
Just last year, a jury decided that Johnson & Johnson had to pay more than $4 billion in damages to a group of women who claimed that asbestos in its products caused their ovarian cancers. Before that, in 2016, the company was ordered to pay $55 million to a woman who claimed she got cancer from its talcum powder.
Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme.