J&J Talc Supplier Takes No Chances on Another Big Jury Loss

(Bloomberg) -- Imerys SA, which supplies talc to Johnson & Johnson, isn’t taking chances as another jury weighs whether to sock the health-care giant with a punishing verdict.

A unit of Imerys agreed to settle its part of a California woman’s lawsuit blaming both companies for causing her cancer with asbestos-tainted talc at the conclusion of a four-week state-court trial in Pasadena, just before the case was sent to jury for deliberations.

The terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed when the judge announced it Monday. In July, a St. Louis jury ordered J&J to pay $4.69 billion in damages to 22 women who blamed their ovarian cancer on exposure to asbestos in the company’s powders. That was the sixth-largest product-defect verdict in U.S. history. Imerys reached a confidential settlement a few days before that trial that people familiar with the accord said included a payment of at least $5 million.

A previous case over alleged exposure to asbestos-laced talc that Imerys didn’t settle resulted in April in a $117 million verdict in New Jersey against it and J&J, of which the Paris-based mining company was responsible for 30 percent.

In the Pasadena case, Carolyn Weirick alleged that talc provided by Imerys to J&J for its baby powder and other products caused her mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

The world’s largest health-care products maker faces more than 10,000 other suits claiming its baby powder caused cancer. The St. Louis verdict is under appeal.

Imerys wouldn’t comment Monday on why it decided to settle the Pasadena case just before company lawyers were scheduled to give closing arguments to jurors.

“Imerys Talc America is committed to the quality and safety of its products, as evidenced by our quality testing results that consistently show no asbestos,’’ the company said in a statement.

Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokeswoman, declined to comment on Imerys’s decision to settle.

J&J’s lawyers asked Judge Margaret Oldendorf to grant a mistrial after they learned Imerys had decided to settle. Oldendorf refused and will allow jurors to weigh claims against the health-care company.

School Counselor

Weirick, 59, is a school counselor who said she’s been using J&J’s talc products, such as baby powder and its former Shower-to-Shower line, for more than 40 years. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017 and said her only exposure to asbestos came from use of talc products.

During the trial, Weirick’s lawyers told jurors that when they tested baby powder found in her home, they found 11 asbestos fibers in it, enough to have caused her cancer.

J&J hasn’t taken responsibility for the asbestos found in its products and has broken trust with consumers, Jay Stuemke, one of her lawyers, said in closing arguments. “We can’t trust that these companies have done the testing they should have done or even the testing they’ve claimed to have done,’’ Stuemke said.

J&J denies the company’s products have ever contained asbestos and said it’s difficult to pinpoint the causes of cancer. The case should be about “science, not speculation,’’ Christopher Vejnoska, one of the company’s lawyers, said in his final argument.

Lawyers for J&J and Weirick have agreed the counselor has suffered about $1.2 million in actual damages over her cancer claims. Stuemke asked jurors for $25 million in compensation for past and future pain and suffering. She’s also seeking punitive damages.

The case is Carolyn Weirick v. Brenntag North America, BC656425, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (Pasadena).

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