Talcum powder

A California jury has awarded $12 million to a woman diagnosed in 2018 with mesothelioma after using talc-based cosmetic products made by Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive Co.

The Alameda County Superior Court jury found that both Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson failed to warn about known risks associated with their talcum powder products, which were substantial factors in plaintiff Patricia Schmitz’s mesothelioma, according to Courtroom View Network’s coverage of the trial.

Schmitz claimed in a lawsuit that she got mesothelioma, a deadly lung cancer tied to asbestos, after using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products and Colgate-Palmolive’s Cashmere Bouquet throughout her life. The trial began April 22.

“We will pursue an appeal because Johnson’s baby powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer, as supported by decades of independent clinical evidence,” wrote Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Kimberly Montagnino. “There were serious procedural and evidentiary errors in the proceeding that required us to move for mistrial on multiple occasions and we believe provide strong grounds for appeal.”

Johnson & Johnson filed a motion for mistrial after the trial began, based on the judge’s rulings, and Colgate-Palmolive filed a motion for nonsuit.

“This trial suffered from numerous significant legal and evidentiary errors that we believe unfairly prejudiced the defense,” wrote Colgate-Palmolive spokesman Tom DiPiazza. “Indeed, in cases where the law has been applied properly and all the evidence has been presented, courts and juries around the country, including in California, have found in favor of Colgate, concluding that Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder product, which Colgate has not sold in the United States since 1995, did not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma.”

The verdict award was for compensatory damages. Jurors found that Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive each were 40% at fault, with the remaining 20% against Avon, which was not a defendant at trial. The jury, which deliberated for four days and raised several questions about the verdict form, ended up at an impasse on whether Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive acted with malice, warranting punitive damages.

In March, another jury in Alameda County Superior Court hit Johnson & Johnson with a $29 million talc verdict involving Teresa Leavitt, diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017 after using its baby powder, and her husband Dean McElroy.

The same plaintiffs lawyers, Joe Satterley and Steven Kazan, of Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, who won that verdict, in 2018 secured a $117 million verdict in New Jersey along with firm colleague Denyse Clancy and Moshe Maimon of Levy Konigsberg in New York.

Satterley did not respond to a request for comment.

This time, his team was up against Alexander Calfo, a partner at King & Spalding in Los Angeles, and Michael Battle of Barnes & Thornburg in Washington, D.C., for Johnson & Johnson. Foley & Mansfield partners Gary Sharp in Walnut Creek, California; Peter Mularczyk, in Los Angeles; and Andrew Sharp, in Detroit, represented Colgate-Palmolive.

The trial was contentious on both sides. Plaintiffs attorneys sought $1,000 in contempt sanctions against Calfo for violating a pretrial order that banned him from attacking Schmitz’s lawyers.

“Mr. Calfo not only accused plaintiff’s lawyers of manufacturing a claim, but put before the jury a diagram placing the plaintiff’s lawyers at the center of a web of deception,” wrote Clancy in a June 5 motion. “This is an affront to the bar, an affront to the legal system, and an affront to this court.”