Industry giant, Johnson & Johnson have recently come under fire for allegations that their widely used talc baby powder contains cancer-causing asbestos fibers. The latest in a string of asbestos lawsuits has been filed by mesothelioma victim, Terry Leavitt, in Oakland, California. This Leavitt vs. Johnson & Johnson asbestos trial is now underway.

Leavitt used J&J’s baby powder products during her childhood in the 1960s but was not diagnosed with mesothelioma until 2017. She alleges it was the asbestos in these talc-based products that caused her disease, for which there is currently no cure.

Johnson & Johnson Asbestos Trials Are Mounting

This particular case is the first of over a dozen J&J asbestos-related cases scheduled for trial in 2019, with the company facing a shocking 11,700 lawsuits over the health effects of its talc products. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Joseph Satterly, told the jury that J&J was aware of the asbestos risks and yet continued to use it in their products.

The issue has come into public view after a recent Reuters report was released showing internal J&J documents that seemed to test positive for small amounts of asbestos in products from the 1970s until the early 2000s. This prompted J&Js share price to plummet overnight by 14%.

There was more bad news for J&J in 2018 after losing a lawsuit in April for $117 million. The case was filed by a New Jersey man diagnosed with mesothelioma caused by inhaling J&J’s commercial talc over a number of years.

Of the 11 Johson & Johnson asbestos trials that have happened so far, 3 have resulted in wins for plaintiffs. The highest amount awarded was $4.69 billion to a group of 22 women with ovarian cancer who frequently used J&J’s talc products as a deodorant. Despite evidence to the contrary, J&J still hopes to appeal and overturn these multiple verdicts, adamant their products are safe for the public.

Plaintiff’s Case Strengthened by Studies

Leavitt’s case may be one of many, but she does have an expert witness testimony to strengthen her case. Environmental health scientist, James Webber, took to the stand in January 2019 to explain how multiple studies have shown there are potentially millions of asbestos fibers in each gram of talc powder used in J&J products.

Webber launched an asbestos lab in New York during the 1970s and ran studies for over 30 years to prove that there were worrying amounts of asbestos in these supposedly harmless household products.

During the trial, Webber showed an internal J&J document that discussed the results of a talc study. The research revealed the amount of asbestos found in a sample of J&J talcum powder was “but a trace.” Webber went onto explain that due to the minuscule nature of asbestos particles there could be millions of fibers in a tiny sample.

Other studies in different labs have produced similar findings, though J&J argue that the tests picked up on “background” asbestos.

Reuters Story Reveals Alleged J&J Neglect

The Reuters investigation, published in December 2018, combed through multiple studies and data, as well as a number of witness accounts. They say that J&J neglected to tell the FDA that at least three tests from 1972–1975—conducted in 3 different labs—found “rather high” asbestos levels in its talc. While J&J denies the claim, the list of plaintiffs continues to rise.

Leavitt’s case and past successful claims combined with the astonishing Reuters reporting will hopefully serve in helping others seek justice for their illnesses.

The basis of Leavitt’s lawsuit is that J&J was aware of the risks of asbestos but failed to acknowledge it. While Leavitt believes that she only came in contact with asbestos as a child, there are plenty more cases on the docket waiting to prove a possible connection between J&J talc and mesothelioma. Leavitt’s case will continue until the jury comes to a final decision on this current Johnson & Johnson asbestos trial.

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Sources
  1. Channel News Asia, “Latest trial in J&J talc litigations gets underway in California”. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/health/latest-trial-in-j-j-talc-litigations-gets-under-way-in-california-11097532. Accessed on January 20, 2019.
  2. Reuters, “Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder”.
    Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/. Accessed on January 20, 2019.
  3. D. Atkins, Law 360, “J&J Knew Of Baby Powder's Link To Cancer In '71, Jury Told”. Accessed on January 20, 2019.

Last modified: January 29, 2019