Cook County jury orders Johnson & Johnson to pay $45M in talc powder asbestos verdict

A Chicago jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $45 million to the family of a woman who died after contracting mesothelioma, allegedly caused by exposure to asbestos in talc baby powder and other products.

Johnson & Johnson says it will immediately appeal and believes it will overturn the verdict, which they day is not based in scientific evidence.

It’s the latest verdict against the pharmaceutical and health and beauty products maker among tens of thousands of cases still pending against Johnson & Johnson in courts across America.

The verdict marks the conclusion of the first trial in such cases in Chicago court since trial lawyers succeeded in blocking Johnson & Johnson from using bankruptcy proceedings to force a universal settlement that could have been worth billions of dollars.

On April 19, a jury in Cook County Circuit Court came down in favor of the family of Theresa Garcia, identified as a mother of six and a grandmother who died from cancer. At trial, Garcia’s family’s lawyers persuaded jurors the lung cancer that claimed her life had been caused by exposure to asbestos which may have been contained in the Johnson & Johnson baby powder and other products Garcia had allegedly used throughout her life.

Garcia was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 2020 and died in July 2020, according to court documents.

Garcia’s family and their lawyers claimed Garcia had inhaled asbestos fibers allegedly contained in the talc.

The lawyers pointed to lab tests, which allegedly demonstrated talc products could contain small amounts of asbestos, which they say could then cause mesothelioma, a fatal cancer of the lining of the lungs that is always fatal.

The disease is typically associated with asbestos exposure, and has been the subject decades of lawsuits against industrial manufacturers and many other companies, generating billions of dollars in fees for trial lawyers in the process.

Courts in Cook County and downstate Madison and St. Clair counties have consistently ranked among the most popular court systems for such asbestos exposure cancer lawsuits.

However, in recent years, as the number of such industrial asbestos exposure plaintiffs has begun to ebb, many of those same trial lawyers have switched to suing companies like Johnson & Johnson over alleged sources of asbestos, such as talcum powder.

The studies used to justify such talc powder lawsuits have come under criticism as “junk science.” Johnson & Johnson, for instance, has accused one of the most prominent talc expert witnesses frequently used by trial lawyers, Dr. Jacqueline Moline, of fraud.

They also have pointed out some other leading talc case expert witnesses have switched sides in recent years, after spending decades downplaying the possibility of talc exposure as a source of mesothelioma, when they were being paid to testify about the asbestos risks from industrial sources instead.

Some courts have thrown out talc case verdicts based on faulty testimony from such expert witnesses.

In a statement issued following the verdict, Johnson & Johnson said it believes this verdict will also not stand.

“We will immediately appeal, and we expect to prevail as we typically do with aberrant adverse verdicts that have no basis in the law or science and are predicated on clearly erroneous rulings by the trial court — as happened recently when the $223 million award was vacated by the New Jersey appellate court.

“The verdict in this trial is irreconcilable with the decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming talc is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer.

For that reason, the vast majority of juries—including a jury that rendered a defense verdict yesterday— have rejected the false narratives regarding talc advanced by plaintiff law firms. Indeed, the contrived opinions of the purported ‘experts’ presented by plaintiff’s counsel in this case should have been excluded by the judge and never should have been allowed to go to the jury. That is why the court overseeing the federal multi-district litigation, where the majority of the talc claims are pending, granted our motion to re-review whether the opinions have any scientific merit—they do not.

‘The research, clinical evidence, and over 40 years of studies by independent medical experts around the world continue to support the safety of talc,” Johnson & Johnson said.

Verdicts have been delivered in courts in Illinois, Missouri, California and elsewhere in the U.S.

The talc asbestos cases were placed on hold for months, as Johnson & Johnson sought to use bankruptcy protection to force a settlement. Trial lawyers leading the talc cases, however, succeeded in persuading courts to reject that move, and force Johnson & Johnson to instead face individual trials across the country once more.

Following the most recent Cook County verdict, attorney Ben Adams, who was on the legal team representing Garcia, hailed the verdict, saying it marked an important moment since the courts ended Johnson & Johnson’s alleged “corporate shell game.”

“Ms. Garcia’s case was delayed by several years when Johnson & Johnson filed two bad faith bankruptcies in an attempt to avoid the decades of liability it now faces,” said Adams.

Adams’ colleague, Jessica Dean, added: “After years of delay caused by Johnson & Johnson’s bad faith abuse of the bankruptcy system, we are so grateful that the jury saw through Johnson & Johnson’s … deceptions.”

This article was first published in Cook County Record.

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