Asbestos case against Johnson & Johnson, Imerys climbs to $117M in damages

Johnson & Johnson was hit with $55 million in punitive damages in a talc case Wednesday. (Johnson & Johnson)

In the case of Stephen Lanzo, a retired banker who argued decades of talcum powder use caused his mesothelioma, Johnson & Johnson and Imerys' $37 million legal setback last week was only the first hit. On Wednesday, a jury in New Jersey ordered the companies to pay $80 million in punitive damages, too. 

The jury found that "both defendants acted intentionally and with deliberate indifference to the rights of Mr. Lanzo," according to a press release from law firm Levy Konigsberg LLP. For punitive damages, the jury ordered J&J to pay $55 million and Imerys to pay $25 million. J&J denied the claim its products caused the cancer and said it will appeal. 

Lanzo's case was the first alleging a link between talc and mesothelioma to go against the drugmaker; J&J prevailed against similar claims last year in California. Lanzo had alleged that J&J knew its powder products contained asbestos, a known carcinogen.

A J&J spokesperson said "multiple independent, non-litigation-driven scientific evaluations have found that our baby powder does not contain asbestos and we will immediately begin our appeal." 

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

"Throughout this trial, we were prevented from presenting evidence which we believe would have been important to the jury in their deliberations," she added. "Once the full evidence is reviewed, we believe this decision will be reversed.”  

But Levy Konigsberg sees things differently. The firm said plaintiff attorneys presented documents showing that tests found the presence of asbestos in J&J talc in the 1960s and 1970s, and even into the 1990s and 2000s. The company could have switched to a safer alternative such as cornstarch, the firm says, but didn't because of "marketing and litigation concerns." 

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

It remains to be seen how successful the drugmaker will be in appeal. J&J has already won an appeal of a $417 million verdict and another worth $72 million. In other cases, juries have awarded plaintiffs $55 million, $70 million and $110 million. J&J has pledged to appeal each loss. 

Despite the losses, the company has also won ovarian cancer talc cases in New Jersey and St. Louis.