A Northern California jury late Wednesday handed up a $29 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson in a case testing a claim that using its baby powder as a base for makeup or dry shampoo caused her to get mesothelioma.
The verdict excluded punitive damages, but included an award of $22 million in noneconomic damages to the Teresa Leavitt, who received a mesothelioma diagnosis in 2017. The jury’s finding comes one day after a House subcommittee heard testimony about the safety concerns surrounding cosmetic talc.
Plaintiffs lawyer Joseph Satterley of Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood Satterley represented Leavitt and her husband Dean McElroy, of San Leandro, California. Satterley’s team, which included firm colleague Denyse Clancy as well as Moshe Maimon of Levy Konigsberg in New York, in 2018 secured a $117 million verdict in New Jersey.
In an email, Maimon said, “Another jury has rejected J&J’s misleading claims that its talc was free of asbestos. The internal J&J documents that the jury saw, once more laid bare the shocking truth of decades of cover-up, deception and concealment by J&J.”
Johnson & Johnson immediately vowed to appeal the verdict. A spokeswoman said the New Jersey-based company was “disappointed” with the verdict “because Johnson’s baby powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer.”
“There were serious procedural and evidentiary errors in the proceeding that required us to move for mistrial on eight different points during the proceeding,” wrote Kimberly Montagnino in an emailed statement. “Plaintiffs’ attorneys have fundamentally failed to show that Johnson’s baby powder contains asbestos, and their own experts concede that they are not recognizing the accepted definition of asbestos and are ignoring crucial distinctions between minerals that are asbestos and minerals that are not. We respect the legal process and reiterate that jury verdicts are not medical, scientific or regulatory conclusions about a product.”
The trial was the first in Alameda County Superior Court. It was the latest of about a dozen jury verdicts involving Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products and mesothelioma. The cases are separate from the trials alleging the same products caused ovarian cancer. In addition to the New Jersey verdict, a jury in California awarded $25.75 million last year. Johnson & Johnson has won three defense verdicts, but the rest have ended in mistrials.
Another trial began last month in New Jersey.
Michael Brown, of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Baltimore, represented Johnson & Johnson, which the jury found was 98 percent liable for the award. Brown was joined by firm colleague Scott Richman, and several lawyers from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Last year, Brown teamed up with Bruce Bishop, of Willcox & Savage in Norfolk, Virginia, in representing Johnson & Johnson in a South Carolina case that ended in a mistrial.
The Alameda County trial, which began Jan. 7, originally included Imerys Talc America Inc., represented by Los Angeles-based Dentons partner Brad DeJardin. Imerys filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the middle of the trial.
The jury assessed 2 percent liability against Cyprus Mines Corp., another talc supplier.
Jurors found that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn about the safety risks of talcum powder, which it defectively designed, and that its deception and concealment contributed to Leavitt’s mesothelioma. They awarded Leavitt $2.49 million in past and future economic damages, including medical expenses and lost income, and $22 million in past and future noneconomic damages. They also awarded $5 million to her husband.
Jurors began their deliberations after closing arguments Tuesday.
The Recorder followed the trial via web coverage of the trial by Courtroom View Network.