A jury has awarded a New Jersey man, Stephen Lanzo, $117 million in compensation after finding that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder was laced with asbestos that caused his mesothelioma.
Mr Lanzo was an investment banker in New York City. He was a user of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder from 1972 to 2003.
The primary component of Baby Powder is talc, which is commonly known as ‘talcum powder’. Johnson & Johnson has always argued that it used pure talc. Mr Lanzo was able to produce evidence at trial that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder also contained asbestos powder.
The jury agreed with Mr Lanzo’s contention, and found that Johnson & Johnson and the talc supplier Imerys Talc America failed to adequately warn Mr Lanzo that the Baby Powder contained asbestos.
Mr Lanzo’s lawyers were able to prove, after obtaining internal documents from Johnson & Johnson, that Johnson & Johnson knew that its Baby Powder was contaminated with asbestos and also that they engaged in a cover up spanning decades to prevent regulators from finding out. The most damning document showed that, as far back as 1969, Johnson & Johnson’s medical officers warned about the problems and signalled that in “forty years” the company would be hit with a wave of mesothelioma lawsuits.
Evidence uncovered by the Reuters news agency since the trial has been even more damning.
Johnson & Johnson’s test lab found asbestos fibres in samples taken in its Vermont talc mines in 1984, 1985 and 1986. These test results had not been previously publicly disclosed.
There are now 14,000 lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson before American courts of people alleging that their mesothelioma and other cancers were caused by Johnson & Johnson’s talc products.
It is important to note that this is an American case, and in New South Wales compensation awards for mesothelioma are not as large as they are in the United States. It has also not been proven that any Johnson & Johnson product sold in Australia contained asbestos.