Jury Awards $260 Million to Woman Diagnosed With Mesothelioma After Using J&J Baby Powder

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Johnson & Johnson talc ovarian cancer lawsuits

After a month-long trial, plaintiff’s attorneys for a 48-year-old Oregon woman won a $260 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson (J&J). The award included $200 million in punitive damages.

Kyung Lee received a mesothelioma diagnosis after decades of exposure to Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. Lee’s weight had dropped to less than 91 pounds, according to Law.com.

The plaintiff’s attorney opened the trial informing the jury that J&J has known for decades that asbestos veins can run alongside talc veins (“like a steak”). J&J was also aware that asbestos fibers existed in samples of the company’s talc, the lawyer stated to the jury.

The verdict follows a $45 million award in an April trial in Chicago, in which plaintiff Theresa Garcia died from mesothelioma after decades of using J&J’s baby powder. Garcia was a mother to six children. This case did not permit punitive damages.

Where’s the Science?

In a statement, Erik Haas, J&J’s vice president of litigation, announced that Johnson & Johnson will promptly appeal the verdict, describing it as one of the many unusual “adverse verdicts that have no basis in law or science.”

Meanwhile, the scientific foundation for the talc ovarian cancer lawsuits was further cemented in a May 2024 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.  The study consisted of more than 50,000 women who were asked about their use of talcum powder and douching products when they joined the study (between 2003-2009) and again later (between 2017-2019).

Researchers concluded there is a “persistent positive association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer, with the highest risks found among frequent and long-term users.”

Even after correcting for potential errors in reporting, the connection between talc products and ovarian cancer remained strong. For example, even when assuming some errors in reporting, the risk of ovarian cancer was still 40% higher for those who used talcum powder.

More than 50,000 lawsuits have been filed against J&J alleging that the company’s talc-based baby powder caused ovarian cancer (MDL 2738, IN RE: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation).

J&J Continues its Push on “Prepackaged” Bankruptcy Plan

The mesothelioma trial verdicts coincide with J&J’s third attempt to use bankruptcy to resolve ovarian cancer talc lawsuits.

J&J proposes approximately $6.5 billion designated for individuals with gynecological cancer claims, including ovarian cancer.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers are strongly cautioning against the plan. In a letter to the legal community, Levin Papantonio Rafferty and Beasley Allen Law Firm warned plaintiffs’ attorneys about J&J’s “ballot-stuffing” strategy the company has introduced to secure a supermajority vote—directly encouraging law firms to accept settlements that undervalue plaintiffs’ claims.

For the plan to proceed, 75% of ovarian cancer talc claimants would need to approve it. Subsequently, all pending ovarian cancer lawsuits would be transferred to bankruptcy court. `Voting begins this week, according to Law.com.

Plaintiffs Are Suing for the Delay in Talc Cancer Cases

On May 22, 2024, plaintiffs initiated a class action (Murphy et al. v. LTL Management Inc. et al., Case No. 3:24-CV-06320 (D. N.J.)) on behalf of women and families whose talc-cancer cases were delayed due to Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) manipulation of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The complaint claims that the defendants fraudulently engaged in a scheme to transfer assets during two bad faith bankruptcy filings to limit their liability for talc claims. According to the lawsuit, these actions caused a two-year delay in scheduled trials and other resolutions.

The plaintiffs filed individual lawsuits for talc-related ovarian cancer and proposed a class of women who allegedly suffered serious illnesses, including ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, due to J&J’s defective talc-based powder products. Defendants in the case include J&J, LTL Management, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Kenvue, and others.

The company attempted to settle talc lawsuits in bankruptcy court by creating a subsidiary to assume liability for these claims. This tactic, known as a “Texas two-step,” was dismissed in court because the subsidiary was not financially distressed.

This is J&J’s third attempt at a bankruptcy strategy in the talc litigation. Courts threw out the company’s two previous bankruptcy cases.