April 11, 2018 – A New Jersey jury has awarded a total of $117 million dollars to the plaintiffs, Steve and Kendra Lanzo, for Mr. Lanzo’s mesothelioma caused by exposure from asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc products. The Lanzos are represented by Levy Konigsberg L.L.P. and Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, P.C. The defendants ordered to pay the $117 million verdicts are Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc. (“J&J”), and Imerys Talc America, Inc. (“Imerys”), a supplier of the talc. Last week, the jury awarded $37 million in compensatory damages, including $30 million for Mr. Lanzo’s past and future pain and suffering from his mesothelioma and $7 million for Mrs. Lanzo’s spousal damages (known as “loss of consortium” and “loss of services and society”). The case then proceeded to a punitive damages phase in which the jury found that both defendants acted intentionally and with deliberate indifference to the rights of Mr. Lanzo. Today the same jury awarded punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc. in the amount of $55 million, and against Imerys Talc America, Inc. in the amount of $25 million.
Both J&J and Imerys continue to deny that their talc ever contained asbestos. However, the jury rejected this defense, unanimously finding that Mr. Lanzo was exposed to asbestos from his use of J&J’s talc products. The jury also found unanimously that both defendants failed to provide adequate warnings about the dangers of asbestos in the talc, and that J&J manufactured a defective product that was unreasonably dangerous to customers. In his powerful closing argument, Levy Konigsberg partner Moshe Maimon asked the jury to send a message to the companies that what they did was “outrageous and egregious”, that they should “stop” using talc for baby powder, and that they should “never do this again”.
This trial, unlike prior ovarian cancer verdicts against J&J for its talc powder, centered around the presence of asbestos in J&J’s iconic baby powder. The jury was shown previously sealed and confidential documents produced by defendants in litigation that showed findings of asbestos in talc dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. The jury was also shown documents showing that J&J could have replaced its talc baby powder with a safer alternative (corn starch) but failed to do so because of marketing and litigation concerns.
Since the 1970s, J&J and Imerys’ predecessor companies have fought against government regulation of cosmetic talc powders. The companies instead adopted a self-regulating test method that they knew would not be the most sensitive in identifying asbestos in talc. In the 1990s and 2000s, J&J received additional testing and correspondence from outside laboratories showing asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder.
Imerys’ confidential documents show that Imerys fended off regulation of its talc sales by creating “confusion” with the regulatory agencies. In 2008, Imery’s head of product stewardship made a monopoly board called “License to Market” talc. On this monopoly board, a skull and crossbones and “DANGER” were placed next to squares marked “Public perception” and “Litigation” regarding talc.
At the punitive damages phase of this trial, Imerys’ Chief Financial Officer testified that Imerys Talc America’s Board had not yet met to discuss the $37 million in compensatory damages awarded by the jury, and had not ceased selling its talc for use in cosmetic talc products such as Johnson’s Baby Powder. J&J declined to call a corporate witness during the punitive damages phase of the verdict.
The team of trial lawyers in the Lanzo case are Moshe Maimon, partner at New York and New Jersey-based Levy Konigsberg LLP, and Joseph Satterley and Denyse Clancy of Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, P.C of Oakland, California.
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