The jury that found that asbestos present in Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based powder products led to a man’s mesothelioma has awarded the plaintiff an additional $80 million in punitive damages.
New Jersey resident Stephen Lanzo claimed that his use of the company’s talc powders since his birth in 1972 resulted in long-term exposure to asbestos fibers. Now diagnosed with mesothelioma, Lanzo already received a $37 million compensatory damage award in the case.
The lawsuit and subsequent award bring up new questions for a product that has already been associated with deadly disease, but of a completely different nature. Johnson & Johnson is currently defending itself against thousands of claims that long term use of talc-based feminine hygiene products like Shower to Shower have led to cases of ovarian cancer. Evidence has surfaced in these cases that the world’s largest health care goods manufacturing company knew of the dangers posed by talc and either chose to ignore them or covered them up.
Records indicate that J&J moved its line of Baby Powder products away from talc in the 1970s while the feminine care line was left with its existing talc base. The company has continuously asserted that talc is safe for use, yet no clear reasoning for the change in production ingredients has ever been given.
Going beyond a simple declaration of the safety of talc products in this case, J&J has explicitly denied that its talc products even contain asbestos. The company has also made an immediate move toward appeal and stated that it was prevented from presenting important evidence to the jury while making its defense. Lanzo, the corporation maintains, suffered asbestos exposure via other means. And, when litigation to seek compensation for that exposure failed, he moved to involve Johnson & Johnson talc products.
The jury, however, seems to have felt that the plaintiff’s case was strong enough to issue well over $100 million in combined damages. Should the award stand under appeal, it is a safe assumption that an entirely new chapter will be opened in Johnson & Johnson’s history. The prospect of having unknowingly exposed a baby, let alone oneself, to cancer-causing fibers for years on end is a nightmare that no parent wants to confront.