In Middlesex County, New Jersey, a state jury ordered that Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) and Imerys Talc America, an Imerys SA unit (“Imerys”), must pay $117 million in damages in a lawsuit claiming a man developed cancer due to his exposure to asbestos in talc-based products. On April 11, 2018, the jury awarded Stephen Lanzo $80 million in punitive damages after awarding him and his wife $37 million in compensatory damages during the first stage of the trial less than a week earlier.
Asbestos claims are a more recent challenge for J&J. Generally, cancer causes are difficult to prove, since it takes time for cancer to develop and it can be influenced by a variety of factors. The topic is a growing debate in the scientific community. While most studies suggest that more research is needed, some studies have found that women face an increased risk of ovarian cancer when use of talc in the genital area.
The New Jersey verdict comes at a time where J&J faces talc-related lawsuits by more than 6,600 plaintiffs nationally, largely based on claims that it failed to warn women about the risk of developing ovarian cancer by using its products for feminine hygiene.
Nationally, juries awarded plaintiffs a total of $307 million in five trials in Missouri involving ovarian cancer lawsuits. In California, a jury awarded one woman $417 million. However, in October 2017 a Missouri appellate court threw out the first of the five verdicts for $72 million and a California judge similarly vacated the $417 million verdict. J&J is seeking to reverse the other verdicts as well.
J&J won the only other asbestos-related trial in November 2017, when a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ruled in its favor citing “insufficiency of the evidence as to the causation.”
J&J is not the only talc product manufacturer being sued over talcum powder cancer claims. Other lawsuits against talc makers include Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Chattem Inc., a Sanofi company that manufacturers Gold Bond.
Both J&J and Imerys have publicly stated they plan to appeal unfavorable decisions, making it evident these are the early days in talc litigation. Correspondingly, with tobacco and asbestos, it took the science community decades to show a causal connection to cancer.
While many plaintiffs push to force J&J to put a warning label on their products, J&J finds it irresponsible to place a cancer warning on a product that has not been shown to cause cancer.
Manufacturers of transvaginal mesh products are finding a similar litigation landscape. In in Bergen County, New Jersey, on April 12, 2018, a state jury awarded $35 million in punitive damages, a day after awarding the plaintiff $33 million in compensatory damages in a suit against C.R. Bard over defective pelvic mesh products.
The jury, consisting of nine men and three women, found that Bard’s Avaulta Solo Prolapse Repair System and the Align Transobturator Stress Urinary Incontinence Repair System were defectively designed and failed to contain adequate warnings. The case is the first bellwether trial against Bard in New Jersey’s mass tort program. Bard faces 154 other pelvic mesh cases before the same judge, Superior Court Judge James DeLuca in Hackensack, New Jersey.
In 2014, Bard settled more than 500 pelvic mesh lawsuits for $21 million and resolved another 3,000 cases for $200 million in 2015. In recent years, Bard has also seen verdicts in individual pelvic mesh suits for $5 million, $ 43.6 million, and $2 million.
Nationally, in May 2015, a Delaware jury awarded $100 million to a plaintiff on claims that Boston Scientific’s Pinnacle and Advantage Fit transvaginal mesh implants were defectively designed after the devices eroded and caused vaginal scarring, constant pain and other complications. However, an appellate judge deemed the award excessive and reduced it to $10 million.
In September 2017, a Philadelphia jury awarded $57.1 million against Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon in a pelvic mesh trial. Also in September 2017, a Texas state jury awarded $73.5 million, finding Boston Scientific was negligent for failing to warn doctors and patients of the risks associated with the obytryx bladder sling. An appeals court later reduced the award to $34.6 million.