J&J Loses Second Talc-Asbestos Trial and Damages May Grow

(Bloomberg) -- Johnson & Johnson lost a second trial linking baby powder use to deadly asbestos cancer and jurors must next decide whether to punish the company on top of their award of $21.7 million in damages.

Jurors in state court in California concluded Wednesday J&J was liable for Joanne Anderson’s mesothelioma and awarded the 68-year-old compensatory damages. Anderson’s lawyers said she was exposed to baby powder laced with the carcinogen when she used it on her children and while bowling.

It’s the second jury in less than two months to conclude J&J sold its iconic baby powder knowing it contained at least trace amounts of asbestos and posed a cancer risk to users. In April, jurors in J&J’s hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey, ordered the company and a unit of Imerys SA, a talc miner, to pay a total of $117 million to a banker who claimed his cancer was tied to baby powder use.

Jurors in Anderson’s case will consider whether J&J and one of its units should be ordered to pay punishment damages for their failure to warn consumers about the risk of asbestos-laced baby powder. The company maintains the carcinogen has never been found in the product and never will be.

“While we are disappointed with this decision, the jury has further deliberations to conduct in this trial and we will reserve additional comment until the case is fully completed,’’ Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

David Greenstone, Anderson’s lawyer, didn’t return a call and an email seeking comment on the compensatory damages verdict. During the trial, Greenstone told jurors that tests on baby powder bottles found in his client’s home came up positive for asbestos.

The talc asbestos suits are a second front in the litigation over J&J’s iconic baby powder. The company is facing claims by more than 9,000 plaintiffs, primarily connecting talc to ovarian cancer, according to a May 1 securities filing. The company didn’t break out the number of ovarian cancer cases versus the number of mesothelioma cases tied to talc.

Anderson argues she used J&J’s talc products on her children in the 1970s and on herself in the 1980s and 1990s when she would powder her hands and feet while bowling. She claims at one point, she went through two bottles a month.

J&J’s lawyers countered Anderson’s mesothelioma may not have been caused by asbestos in talc, but could have occurred “spontaneously.’’ They also said the woman had a family history of lung and breast cancer, and that other evidence shows talc doesn’t cause mesothelioma.

In their verdict, jurors said that J&J and its unit were responsible for 67 percent of the award to Anderson. It’s unclear who is responsible for the other 33 percent.

The case is Anderson v. Borg Warner Corp., BC 666513, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (West Covina).

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