For more than 45 years, Johnson & Johnson has been claiming that its baby powder was “pure” and never contained asbestos. A jury of six citizens in New Jersey strongly disagreed. In the case of Stephen and Kendra Lanzo, tried by Levy Konigsberg (“LK”) partner Moshe Maimon and co-counsel Joe Satterley and Denyse Clancy of Kazan McClain Satterley & Greenwood, the jury found that Mr. Lanzo was exposed to asbestos from Johnson’s Baby Powder, and this caused his mesothelioma. How did LK partner Moshe Maimon and his co-counsel prove that there was asbestos in J&J iconic baby powder that has been trusted and used by millions of people worldwide? This article discusses some of the internal documents of J&J that helped win the Lanzo case.
Johnson and Johnson is one of the largest corporations in the world — a true Goliath. The Lanzo trial was against a business unit of Johnson & Johnson known as “Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc.” (“J&J”). J&J was represented by a large team of lawyers who were defending the case on J&J’s home court in New Brunswick, NJ. J&J headquarters were about a mile from the courthouse.
In opening statements, J&J promised the jury that there had never been asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder or any of the talc that went into the product. Soon after opening statements, LK partner Moshe Maimon called his first witness, a doctor with expertise in various fields including microscopy and environmental health. The doctor testified about some of J&J’s historical confidential documents that had become unsealed as the result of the trial. One of the documents that the jury viewed in the first days of trial was a published study from 1991 in which a sample of talc powder was identified as “Sample I”. This talc sample contained the most asbestos fibers of any talc sample in the published study. It was not until 2017, when J&J produced confidential documents in litigation, that the “key” showing the identity of Sample I was revealed. Sample I, the talc sample with the most asbestos fibers, was Johnson’s Baby Powder purchased straight off the shelf at the time of the 1990s study.
The jury also saw a 2003 report from an independent lab that J&J received showing asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder. This lab report was produced by J&J in litigation and became public during the trial.
The jury also viewed documents from laboratories in the 1960s and 1970s in which asbestos was detected in both Johnson’s Baby Powder and in the talc used to make the talcum powder.
In closing arguments, J&J’s attorneys claimed that any testing showing asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder or in the source talc was wrong or an “outlier”. Mr. Maimon showed and discussed many of J&J’s own documents that contradicted the statements of J&J’s attorneys. The jury returned a compensatory damages verdict in the amount of $37 million dollars for Mr. Lanzo’s pain and suffering from his mesothelioma and for the spousal damages of his wife. The verdict found that J&J was 70% at fault and Imerys Talc America (a talc supplier) was 30% at fault.
In the punitive damages phase, J&J's lawyer told the jury that “we hear you” and that the company took the verdict seriously. The J&J lawyer now claimed that, even if the jury found that J&J made mistakes, the company’s actions were not so bad as to warrant punitive damages.
The jury again disagreed. The jury found that J&J and Imerys acted with deliberate indifference to the rights of Mr. Lanzo. The jury awarded $80 million in punitive damages, consisting of $55 million against J&J and $25 million against Imerys.
Another key fact in the case was J&J’s own internal documents showing that they could have easily used corn starch in place of talc in all of its baby powder products. For decades, J&J knew that corn starch was 100% asbestos free and could have completely replaced talc in baby powder, but for marketing and profit reasons J&J refused. Instead, beginning in about 1980, J&J has marketed its classic talc-based baby powder alongside the corn starch version of baby powder, without informing customers of the issues with asbestos and talc.
Levy Konigsberg is proud of this historic verdict against J&J and Imerys. We hope this verdict in favor of our deserving and courageous client also helps others diagnosed with mesothelioma, and that one day talc will not be used in baby powder and body powder products. If you need a team that will fight for you in a mesothelioma case, please contact us for a free consultation.