The third trial in a New Jersey mass tort claiming links between Johnson & Johnson’s talc products and mesothelioma got underway Monday in Middlesex County Superior Court, a few blocks from the company’s New Brunswick headquarters.
Jurors in the case will consider a suit by a plaintiff who was diagnosed with mesothelioma and attributes his illnesses to decades of use of Johnson’s baby powder. The plaintiff, Ricardo Rimondi of Brentwood, New York, is represented by a team from the Lanier Law firm consisting of Monica Cooper, Mark Linder, Joseph Cotilletta and Luz Restrepo.
Rimondi, who is 58, was born in Peru and came to the U.S. in 1992. He claimed he used Johnson & Johnson baby powder from birth until age 50, according to court documents. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2016.
In opening arguments, Cooper projected a graphic onto a screen with the letters “ABC” while telling the jurors that the case boiled down to “Asbestos, breathed, causes cancer.” After introducing jurors to Rimondi, his wife and five sons, who were in attendance, Cooper said, “the world stops when the doctor tells Mr. Rimondi he has cancer. It’s the kind of cancer that takes your life in one to two years. People have to be more important than profits.”
Cooper said Johnson & Johnson is not “the little family, started by two brothers. This is a multibillion-dollar, multinational corporation. But Johnson & Johnson baby powder is their golden egg—it’s the thing that makes everything else seem safe,” she said.
“The evidence is going to show J&J rigged tests, they cut corners, they put profits in front of people,” Cooper said, according to testimony streamed on Courtroom View Network. “Johnson & Johnson is responsible and the responsible party must be brought to justice.”
Cooper also projected a 1992 Johnson & Johnson internal memo discussing efforts to market its baby powder to users other than babies. “They targeted Hispanics, teenagers, African-Americans, overweight women. They were looking for people just like Mr. Rimondi to sell this product to, knowing that it was unsafe,” Cooper said.
But Johnson & Johnson lawyer Morton Dubin of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in New York urged jurors not to lose perspective in the face of claims by plaintiff counsel.
“We’ve heard a lot about the idea that Johnson & Johnson is a multinational company, Johnson & Johnson puts profit before safety. We even heard the race card, suggesting somehow that J&J targeted people like African-Americans or Hispanics. You have to remember, corporations like J&J are made up of people, people like the ones you know. If you take a job at a corporation, you do not check all your morality and who you are,” he said.
Dubin also attacked his adversary’s use of the ABC graphic. “Contrary to what Ms. Cooper told you, sometimes things are not as simple as ABC. Sometimes science is not as simple as ABC. Let me tell you, a lot was left out of what Ms. Cooper told you. This is not an attack on the Rimondi family.”
The latest trial comes just after Johnson & Johnson said in a Feb. 21 announcement that it was issued subpoenas from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over alleged asbestos contamination in its talc products. The company said in a filing with the SEC that it was cooperating with the subpoenas.
The case is the first mesothelioma-related talc suit brought by Lanier against Johnson & Johnson and the firm’s first injury suit on behalf of a user of talc powder in the company’s home jurisdiction of Middlesex County.
Lanier scored a $4.7 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson in a St. Louis court in July 2018 on behalf of 22 women who claimed they developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s powder products. The verdict included $4.14 billion in punitive damages.
Besides Dubin, Johnson & Johnson is represented in the Rimondi suit by Allison Brown of Weil Gotshal & Manges.
Imerys Talc America, which has been Johnson & Johnson’s co-defendant in past cases involving the company’s powder products, is not participating in the trial for Rimondi. Imerys Talc America and two subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on Feb. 13.
In prior mesothelioma cases in Middlesex County, Johnson & Johnson and Imerys were hit with a $117 million verdict in the case of Stephen Lanzo III, which included $80 million in punitive damages, in April 2018. And in October 2018, another Middlesex County jury issued a defense verdict after a trial on behalf of plaintiff Rosalind Henry.
Besides the $117 million Middlesex verdict, plaintiffs claiming the company’s talc products caused them to develop mesothelioma have won one other verdict: for $25.75 million in a case in Los Angeles. Other trials in California linking mesothelioma to J&J’s talc products have ended in two defense verdicts and six mistrials.