Jury orders J&J and talc supplier to pay $37M in mesothelioma case, with more damages possible

jnj
Johnson & Johnson suffered its latest talc legal defeat in New Jersey. (Johnson & Johnson)

Johnson & Johnson has already suffered legal losses in cases alleging its talc products triggered ovarian cancer, but in a new twist, a jury ordered the drugmaker and a supplier to pay $37 million to a patient claiming asbestos in the products caused his mesothelioma.

Jurors in New Jersey on Thursday ordered J&J and its talc supplier Imerys to pay Stephen Lanzo III and his wife $37 million in compensatory damages, according to Reuters. The panel will deliberate punitive damages next week.

A J&J spokesperson said the company is "disappointed with the decision," but that the "jury has further deliberations to conduct in this trial and we will reserve additional comment until the case is fully completed.” Imerys didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Lanzo had argued that decades of routine talcum powder use caused his mesothelioma. During the trial, his attorneys submitted a 1969 memo about tests showing asbestos in J&J's baby powder, Bloomberg reported. A company scientist warned of possible lawsuits if the results became public, according to the publication.

The case in New Jersey differed from many J&J faces as thousands of female plaintiffs have sued over a claimed link to ovarian cancer. J&J has said science is on its side and that the product is safe. 

RELATED: J&J says talc products have always been asbestos-free. Court documents suggest otherwise 

Thursday's verdict is the latest trial loss in what has so far been a mixed bag of results for J&J in its wide-ranging talc litigation. The company has suffered defeats in St. Louis and Los Angeles, but has been able to get nearly $500 million in verdicts reversed. Along the way, the drugmaker has prevailed in cases in New Jersey, Missouri and Los Angeles.

Since juries handed down verdicts worth $72 million and $417 million in St. Louis and Los Angeles, respectively, judges have deemed them to be inappropriate. J&J pledged to appeal other losses.

Last year, J&J won a case in Los Angeles alleging a link to mesothelioma. At the time, a company spokesperson said its recent victories in ovarian cancer cases "forced plaintiff attorneys to pivot to yet another baseless theory."  

In February, attorneys for plaintiffs in thousands of ovarian cancer cases provided FiercePharma with documents and testimony suggesting that some talc tests in the 1970s found asbestos and that the company had debated internally about the issue. A shareholder filed a proposed class action lawsuit around the same time, claiming J&J knew for decades that its talc products contained asbestos fibers and that exposure to them could cause cancers. 

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson wins appeal of $417M talc verdict, vows to keep fighting as cases mount  

A company spokesperson responded that J&J is "confident that our talc products are, and always have been, free of asbestos, based on decades of monitoring, testing and regulation dating back to the 1970s."

She added that J&J's Baby Powder "has been around since 1894 and it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma or ovarian cancer." 

As of J&J's latest annual securities filing, the company faces about 6,600 talc liability cases, with many alleging routine use can cause ovarian cancer.