Johnson & Johnson must pay $18.8 million to a California man who said he developed cancer from exposure to its baby powder, a jury decided Tuesday, a setback for the company seeking to settle thousands of similar cases over its talc-based products in US bankruptcy court
The jury found in favor of Emory Hernandez Valadez, who filed suit last year in California state court in Oakland against J&J, seeking monetary damages. Hernandez, 24, has said he developed mesothelioma, a deadly cancer, in the tissue surrounding his heart as a result of heavy exposure to the company’s talc since childhood. The six-week trial was the first over talc that New Jersey-based J&J has faced in nearly two years.
The jury found that Hernandez was entitled to liquidated damages to compensate him for his medical expenses and pain and suffering, but declined to award punitive damages against the company. Hernández will not be able to collect the judgment for the foreseeable future, thanks to a bankruptcy court order that freezes most of the J&J talc disputes.
J&J vice president of litigation Erik Haas said in a statement that the company would appeal the verdict, calling it “irreconcilable with decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming that Johnson’s baby powder is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer”.
An attorney for Hernandez could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reuters watched the trial via the Courtroom View Network.
In closing arguments before the jury on July 10, lawyers for J&J said there was no evidence linking Hernández’s type of mesolthelioma to asbestos or proving that Hernández was ever exposed to contaminated talc. Hernandez’s lawyers during closing arguments accused J&J of a “despicable” cover-up of decades of asbestos contamination.
Testifying in June, Hernandez told jurors that he would have avoided J&J’s talc if he had been warned that it contained asbestos, as his lawsuit alleges. The jury heard from Hernandez’s mother, Anna Camacho, who said she used large amounts of J & J baby powder on her son when she was an infant and in childhood. She cried as she described Hernandez’s illness.
Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have sued, alleging that J&J’s baby powder and other talc products sometimes contained asbestos and caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. J&J has said that its talc products are safe and do not contain asbestos, which has been linked to mesothelioma.
J&J subsidiary LTL Management filed for bankruptcy in April in Trenton, New Jersey, proposing to pay $8.9 billion to settle more than 38,000 lawsuits and prevent new cases from being filed. It was the company’s second attempt to settle the talc claims in bankruptcy, after a federal appeals court rejected an earlier offer.
Most of the litigation was halted during bankruptcy proceedings, but federal bankruptcy judge Michael Kaplan, who oversees LTL’s Chapter 11, allowed Hernandez’s trial to proceed because he is expected to live only a short time.
Hernandez’s form of mesothelioma is extremely rare, making her case different from the vast majority pending against J&J.
Asbestos plaintiffs seek to have LTL’s latest bankruptcy filing dismissed. They have argued that the filing was filed in bad faith to protect the company from litigation.
J&J and LTL have argued that bankruptcy offers settlement payments to plaintiffs more fairly, efficiently and equitably than trial courts, which they have likened to a “lottery” in which some litigants get big prizes and others nothing .
J&J said in bankruptcy court documents that the costs of its talc-related verdicts, settlements and legal fees have reached about $4.5 billion.