Johnson & Johnson “rigged the tests” to avoid admitting that its baby powder contained asbestos, which is a cancer-causing material, a lawyer for plaintiffs told a St. Louis jury in the opening arguments of a big-stakes product defect lawsuit against the pharmaceutical giant. According to a Bloomberg news report, while J&J has defended lawsuits alleging its talcum powder products caused ovarian cancer, this trial that began in St. Louis earlier this month can be extremely important as it involves 22 women who say their illnesses were caused by exposure to asbestos in the company’s talc.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they have uncovered evidence showing that the company knew as far back in the 1960s that its baby powder was contaminated with at least trace amounts of asbestos, but hid the product’s cancer risks to protect its reputation. This case is part of a recent wave of trials over allegations the company marketed and sold talcum powder knowing that it was contaminated with asbestos, and failed to warn consumers in order to protect its brand.
Stakes Are High
The company has consistently maintained that there is no asbestos in its baby powder and that the product is safe. While some St. Louis juries have found J&J’s talc products were linked to ovarian cancer, they have so far not zeroed in on the claim that the product was tainted with asbestos. The women who filed the lawsuit claim they unknowingly exposed themselves to a cancer-causing agent. Experts say the end result of this trial will hinge on whether jurors believe there is solid science to back up the theory presented by the plaintiffs.
The situation is risky for J&J as well because plaintiffs’ lawyers have been able to persuade other St. Louis juries to award as much as $110 million to an individual plaintiff. Awards of that magnitude to all 22 plaintiffs could leave J&J on the hook for more than $2 billion. Last month, a California jury awarded $25.7 million to a woman who said she has mesothelioma because she used J&J’s talcum powder on herself and her children for years. J&J still faces more than 9,000 lawsuits primarily focusing on ovarian cancer. In 2016, there were only 1,200 plaintiffs.
Holding Corporations Accountable
As product defect attorneys who are currently handling talcum powder litigation, we hope J&J is held accountable for misleading consumers about the products they were using. If it is true that J&J deliberately lied to consumers about the product’s cancer risk, we hope they are punished appropriately for such egregious behavior.