Jury Sides Against Johnson & Johnson® in $29.4 Million Talc Lawsuit

Suit Alleged Johnson & Johnson’s Powder Products Caused Cancer

A jury in California awarded a woman with cancer and her husband $29.4 million in the latest lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, according to a report from the Recorder.

Teresa Leavitt’s suit claimed Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder led her to develop mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Leavitt was diagnosed in 2017.

According to the Recorder, the jury found Johnson & Johnson to be 98 percent liable for the monetary award. CNN notes that the award is purely compensation for Leavitt and her husband. Johnson & Johnson does not have to pay punitive (punishment) damages.

Even still, Johnson & Johnson said it would appeal the verdict. In an emailed statement to ABC News, Johnson & Johnson denied their baby powder causes cancer and claimed Leavitt’s attorneys failed to show that their products contained asbestos.

Leavitt had used Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and Shower to Shower powder in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the Business Times. The Reporter notes that she used talcum powder both as a dry shampoo and as a base for makeup.

Why Is Johnson & Johnson a Concern?

This case is only the most recent talc-related suit brought against Johnson & Johnson in recent years. The company’s talcum powder has come under fire after recent lawsuits and reports have linked it to different types of cancer.

These lawsuits and reports include:

  • A $4.69 Billion dollar verdict against Johnson & Johnson in July 2018. In this case, 22 women claimed Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer. The company’s first attempts to repeal this case were denied in December 2018.
  • A December 2018 Reuters report. This report noted that Johnson & Johnson executives and scientists knew that their baby powder sometimes contained asbestos, but concealed the health risks from the general public for decades.
  • A 2019 subpoena from the U.S. government. In response to growing public concern, members of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requested that Johnson & Johnson give them select documents as part of an investigation into the company.

These incidents have linked the company’s baby powder to asbestos, a mineral that may sometimes be found in talc samples. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma.

The health concerns surrounding Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder are not slowing down. As of 2019, the company is facing upward of 13,000 talc-related lawsuits across America. Concern from the government is increasing as well.

The verdict comes just one day after The House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy addressed concerns about talc on March 12. A press release from the meeting noted bipartisan concern about asbestos in talc products and that the committee will continue to investigate the safety of talc.

Johnson & Johnson remains steadfast despite the scrutiny. The company maintains that their baby powders have always been safe and has appealed the lawsuits that they have not won.

Jury Verdicts and Subcommittee Concerns

In March 2019, Johnson & Johnson came under more scrutiny from both the public and the government. Over a two-day period, the company lost a major talc lawsuit and was the main focus of a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing.

The Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer policy was recently created to protect the interests of consumers. Its first hearing was held March 12, during which its members discussed the growing concerns around asbestos-contaminated talc, including the recent reports surrounding Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.

The next day, a jury in California awarded $29.4 million to a woman with mesothelioma and her husband. The woman claimed her cancer stemmed from using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder. She used the company’s baby powder and Shower to Shower powder in the 1960s and 1970s.

During those decades, the company allegedly worked to discredit any links between their talcum powder and asbestos, as stated in the December 2018 Reuters report.

How Asbestos Causes Diseases

Leavitt’s case has all the hallmarks of an asbestos-related disease. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used in throughout the 20th century. The mineral is almost indestructible.

If asbestos is damaged or disturbed, tiny fibers can enter the nearby air, and humans can inhale them. Diseases like cancer develop after 10-50 years, as asbestos fibers damage healthy cells for decades and cause mutations.

Asbestos is often found in deposits of talc throughout the world. Talc is a soft mineral that, when ground up into a powder, can absorb moisture well. However, microscopic asbestos fibers can sometimes contaminate talc samples, putting customers at risk.

According to the December 2018 Reuters report, some studies found trace amounts of asbestos fibers in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder in the 1960s and 1970s.

The report also notes that the company only promoted studies that did not find asbestos fibers and sometimes hired scientists to create studies that said talc was safe.

Johnson & Johnson has denied the findings of the report and any other that claims its talcum powder is dangerous. Johnson & Johnson’s official site still advises customers to use talcum powder on their hair, though Leavitt claims this use led to her mesothelioma.

Today, only one brand of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder contains talc, while the rest are made with cornstarch.

If you are concerned about your baby powder, check the ingredients. If you have used talc-based baby powder in the past, consult your doctor about any health risks.

Johnson & Johnson® is a registered trademark of Johnson and Johnson.