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New Jersey Win for Johnson & Johnson and Los Angeles Mistrials in Asbestos –Mesothelioma Cancer Talc Trials

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Three asbestos-related cancer trials in the past month result in a win for J&J and two mistrials – The Jury is Still Out.

Los Angeles, CAWithin two weeks of each other, two juries in California failed to reach a verdict on the same issues regarding asbestos-talc claims, resulting in two mistrials. Nine votes are needed for a verdict on claims that J&J was guilty of negligence, failure to warn about the risk of asbestos and marketing defective products. On Sept 24, the sixth J&J mesothelioma trial, the Los Angeles jury was deadlocked 8-4 against J&J – one juror short of victory for plaintiff Kirk Von Salzen. Bloomerg reported that Von Salzen, a retired computer salesman, had used J&J’s talcum powder for 30 years when he was diagnosed in 2017. He was seeking over $12m in damages. Despite the result, his attorney was “satisfied” that eight jurors ruled against J&J.

Carolyn Weirick’s jurors were also deadlocked 8 to 4, after six days of deliberations. Weirick, age 59 and co-owner of an educational counseling service, was diagnosed with mesothelioma that she claims was caused by inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers when she sprinkled on Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, another J&J talc product. Imerys Talc America, Inc., (J&J’s talc supplier and co-defendant) was dismissed from the case after reaching a confidential settlement with Weirick before deliberations began.

After the trial, a few of the eight jurors who favored Weirick told lawyers and reporters that they were “frustrated” because it was “obvious” that asbestos was found in the baby powder. reported that George Chen, a 30-year old computer analyst, said the four jurors who voted for the defense seemed to have ”the mindset of . . . business people” and even if there were miniscule traces of asbestos, J&J should have provided warnings because “people have a right to know.” He also said that J&J has offered a baby powder made with cornstarch for decades, and could have retired the talc version – allegedly tainted with asbestos-- to eliminate any risk. Another juror also said it was “obvious” that the baby powder contained asbestos. She also said the four jurors for the defense seemed to think it was ”reasonable” for J&J ”to go for profits over people because that’s what all big corporations do.” One of the four for the defense said she wasn’t convinced that Weirick’s cancer stemmed from exposure to contaminated powder and described the split between jurors as “thinkers against feelers”.

After the two California mistrials, jurors rejected plaintiff’s claims on the same issue, which resulted in J&J’s first trial win in New Jersey litigation over its baby powder. Plaintiff Rosalind Henry claimed she had been exposed to talc for decades, starting when she was an infant, and that J&J’s product caused her mesothelioma. Further, J&J withheld knowledge of asbestos allegedly present in its cosmetic talc products for years. Unlike the California juries that deliberated for days, the jurors in New Brunswick, New Jersey deliberated for 30 minutes to reach a verdict in the trial that spanned four weeks.

Asbestos linked to Talc – Evidence Presented

In the Weirick case, expert and materials scientist William Longo testified that his microscopic analysis turned up asbestos fibers in an old bottle of talc powder “lying around” her home. Her attorney, Jay Stuemke, showed jurors internal J&J memos and test reports that he said showed J&J knew for decades that its talc products were sometimes tainted by asbestos.

He presented a 1974 memo where a J&J official said “our very preliminary calculation indicates that substantial asbestos can be allowed safely in a baby powder.” Also placed in evidence was a memo from the same year where a head of research and development for a J&J mining subsidiary wrote that J&J needed to develop ways to purge talc of stray asbestos, “strongly urged by this writer to provide the protection against what are currently considered to be materials presenting a severe health hazard and are potentially present in all talc ores in use at this time.”

One year later, an internal document said J&J should “initiate studies on talc safety only as dictated by confrontation,” in order to ”minimize the risk of possible self-generation of scientific data which may be politically or scientifically embarrassing.”

Johnson and Johnson Optimistic

Commenting on the second mistrial, a J&J representative said the company is “grateful to the court and jury for their time and careful consideration of the facts in this case” and it looks forward to a new trial. These mistrials are good news for J&J, to say the least. After its massive defeat in Missouri this summer where jurors heard evidence by 22 women with ovarian cancer and ordered the company to pay $4.69 billion, and another jury in New Jersey ordered J&J in April to pay $117 million to an investment banker who blamed his asbestos-linked cancer on baby powder use, J&J stocks dropped. reported on October 16, 2018 that its stock was rising.

But J&J still faces over 10,000 lawsuits claiming the company knew more than 40 years ago that its baby powder was contaminated with asbestos and hid it from consumers. A New York trail J&J asbestos talc trial is slated for November.


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