As much as Johnson & Johnson would prefer it were otherwise, it's still mired in highly publicized talc litigation—and it's still having trouble persuading juries to decide in its favor.
In its latest trial-court loss, a jury in California on Wednesday ordered J&J to pay $29 million to a woman who claimed her routine use of J&J’s talc caused her mesothelioma, according to reports.
Plaintiff Teresa Leavitt is a mother of two who said J&J's talc products were used on her as a child, and she used it herself into adulthood, Bloomberg reports. Now, she has developed mesothelioma, and her doctors told the jury she’s not expected to live past next year.
J&J attorneys asserted in court that there's no conclusive evidence talc caused Leavitt's mesothelioma. The company has successfully persuaded courts to overturn previous jury verdicts.
Jurors sided with Leavitt, handing J&J its latest loss after a string of others. The $29 million verdict is the latest since J&J’s costliest loss in the talc litigation saga—a $4.69 billion verdict handed to 22 plaintiffs last July. J&J has pledged to appeal cases it has lost and has convinced courts to overturn several jury verdicts so far.
A J&J spokeswoman said the company is "disappointed with today’s verdict and will pursue an appeal because Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer." The company cited “serious procedural and evidentiary errors” and said it has already moved for a mistrial on eight points.
"We respect the legal process and reiterate that jury verdicts are not medical, scientific or regulatory conclusions about a product,” she added.
The company’s shares traded lower after the news Wednesday evening and were slightly down Thursday morning. As of a recent SEC filing, the drugmaker faces about 13,000 talc cases. The litigation has gotten so intense that one of J&J's talc suppliers put several of its subsidiaries into bankruptcy as a defense mechanism.
Amid the scrutiny, Reuters late last year published a report alleging that J&J knew about asbestos in its talc for decades. Afterward, Sen. Patty Murray sent a letter to J&J CEO Alex Gorsky requesting documentation about past asbestos testing and communications with the FDA about the product and its safety. J&J's stock fell about 12% in days following the Reuters report and is now down about 6% from its price before the report.