Just one day after beginning deliberations, a New Jersey jury found Johnson & Johnson and Imerys responsible for a plaintiff’s mesothelioma, which plaintiff alleged resulted from his use of asbestos-contaminated talcum powder products. The jury’s verdict awarded $30 million in compensatory damages to Stephan Lanzo II (who developed mesothelioma) and $7 million in compensatory damages to his wife. Johnson & Johnson was found 70% liable for Lanzo’s injury, and Imerys 30% liable. The jury will return to the courthouse on Tuesday to begin the punitive damages phase of the trial.
In the case, plaintiff Stephan Lanzo II alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder product was contaminated with asbestos fibers that caused his mesothelioma. The plaintiff claimed that he used the talcum powder products from his infancy throughout his adulthood. Imerys was sued as the supplier of the talc to Johnson & Johnson.
During the trial, the jury saw studies from Johnson & Johnson showing that the talc used in the company’s talcum powder products was never contaminated with asbestos fibers. Johnson & Johnson pointed to studies conducted on Italian workers at the company’s talc mines and mills in Italy, which found no cases of mesothelioma among the workers. Nor were there any cases of mesothelioma found among Johnson & Johnson’s workers at its talc mines in Vermont. One of the more significant issues at trial was whether tremolite fibers found in samples of Johnson & Johnson talc were asbestos fibers or non-asbestos fibers. The distinction between the two fiber types is complex and relies heavily on scientific principles that the jury heard extensive testimony about.
In response, plaintiff’s attorneys stated during closing statements that the testing methods used by Johnson & Johnson were designed not to detect toxic minerals considered “asbestos” fibers and the company hid this fact from consumers and regulators. Counsel for Mr. Lanzo alleged that Johnson & Johnson specifically sought out tests that could only detect asbestos above certain levels – levels that it know would never be crossed by its talc products.
This is the second trial of this kind linking Johnson & Johnson talc products to mesothelioma and a first male lead plaintiff for Johnson & Johnson’s talc products. The first case involving plaintiff Tina Herford ended in a defense verdict in Los Angeles Superior Court in November 2017. The defense team successfully argued that Herford’s exposure to asbestos was from other sources, including her father’s clothes who was exposed to asbestos from his work. Plaintiff’s counsel in Herford commented that this loss would have negligible effect on the future of these types of cases and suggested that “this simply was not a jury that was going to find for a plaintiff.” Johnson & Johnson has been involved in multiple trials resulting in major wins for the plaintiff in cases alleging links to talcum powder and ovarian cancer.