J&J California Talc Cancer Trial Ends With Deadlocked Jury

(Bloomberg) -- Jurors weighing claims that Johnson & Johnson’s iconic baby powder is laced with cancer-causing asbestos failed in a second case in two weeks to reach a verdict, resulting in another mistrial.

The latest case was brought by a retired computer salesman who blamed J&J for his mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure, and sought more than $12 million in damages. The Los Angeles jury, which deliberated for several days before a state judge decided the panel was hopelessly deadlocked, voted 8-4 against J&J, one juror short of a victory for the plaintiff, Kirk Von Salzen.

The mistrial is the second straight in lawsuits attempting to link the company’s talc products to cancer. A Pasadena, California, jury also deadlocked a little over a week ago, in a lawsuit brought by a school counselor who blamed her mesothelioma on asbestos in J&J talc.

“I’m satisfied with eight of 12 jurors seeing the evidence for what it was that Johnson & Johnson was callous with some safety protocols that led to the allowance of asbestos in their talc products, which caused Mr. Von Salzen’s disease,” Stuart Purdy, Von Salzen’s lawyer, said in an interview.

A J&J spokeswoman said the two mistrials with hung juries reflect “the careful consideration by these juries of the real science in these cases.’’

“We look forward to a new trial to present our defense -- which rests on decades of independent, non-litigation driven scientific evaluations, none of which have found that Johnson’s Baby Powder contains asbestos,’’ Kim Montagnino said in a statement.

In the last case to end conclusively, a jury in Missouri awarded $4.69 billion in July to more than 20 women with ovarian cancer who alleged asbestos in the company’s baby powder and Shower to Shower products caused their illnesses.

Three Decades

There are more than 10,000 claims in U.S. courts alleging J&J’s talc products cause cancer. Most are brought by women alleging they developed ovarian cancer from J&J baby powder and Shower to Shower talc products.

Von Salzen, 74, said he used J&J’s baby powder daily for about 30 years and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017. Von Salzen said he also used other talcs, but J&J was the only defendant left at trial.

J&J knew for decades that its talc was contaminated with asbestos fibers and hid this from consumers, Purdy told jurors last week at the end of the trial. J&J “never shared” with the Food and Drug Administration positive findings of asbestos in the talc it was using, he said.

“There’s no dispute that asbestos, if it’s in the product, causes disease,” Purdy said. “When someone like Mr. Von Salzen uses it over his lifetime for 30 years on a daily basis, that contributes to his risk of developing cancer, asbestos-related cancer.”

‘Thoroughly Tested’

Von Salzen had been an active man before developing mesothelioma, Purdy said. Now he has constant shortness of breath and “can barely walk across the room,” the lawyer said. Von Salzen has less than a year to live, he added.

The company denied that its products have ever contained asbestos or that it’s responsible for Von Salzen’s illness.

J&J’s baby powder has been “repeatedly and thoroughly tested,” Bruce Hurley, J&J’s attorney, told jurors at the end of trial. “It was not and is not contaminated with asbestos,” he said.

“No published study in any scientific journal has ever concluded, ever, in the world, that Johnson’s Baby Powder causes mesothelioma,” Hurley said. “Cosmetic talc doesn’t cause mesothelioma.”

Lawyers for J&J and Von Salzen agreed he had sustained about $810,000 in economic damages connected to the cancer diagnosis. Von Salzen sought $12 million for past and future pain and suffering, plus unspecified damages for his wife’s claim she will suffer from losing her husband to a premature death.

J&J’s talc supplier, a unit of Paris-based Imerys SA, was dropped from the case during trial, a company spokesman said. Imerys settled the earlier Los Angeles case that ended in a hung jury. It also settled the St. Louis case that generated the $4.69 billion verdict, paying at least $5 million to resolve the claims against it, according to people familiar with the matter.

The case is Von Salzen v. American International Industries Inc., BC680576, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County.

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