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Articles Posted in Companies & Asbestos

A New York asbestos court recently struck down a motion by defendants in an asbestos cancer lawsuit which has sought to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiff was a smoker who otherwise ignored health warnings on the packages of cigarettes he smoked. In its decision, the New York Supreme Court for the County of New York soundly rejected the desperate attempt by defendants Viacom Inc. and General Electric Company to avoid liability for the alleged negligence that the plaintiff’s estate claims was directly responsible for the victim’s mesothelioma diagnosis.

The crux of Viacom and General Electric’s motion for summary judgment was that since now deceased plaintiff was a longtime smoker who did not heed the warnings placed on cigarette packages he smoked, the victim therefore would have ignored any warnings the companies would have, but did not, place on their own allegedly carcinogenic asbestos products. In response, the plaintiff’s estate argued that he had not been aware of the dangers of smoking cigarettes when he started his habit, but tried repeatedly to quit once he learned of the health risks.

In its decision, the New York Supreme Court called the defendants’ argument “speculative” and that the question of the victim’s credibility to his claims must be left to a jury to decide. The court further found another motion brought by defendants to dismiss claims for punitive damages as unpersuasive, leaving open the possibility that a jury could ultimately award additional damages should they find the companies’ conduct rose to the standards which would warrant such additional compensation.

A New Jersey federal judge recently handed down an important ruling which will allow thousands of talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits to proceed against pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson. The plaintiffs lawsuits allege that they developed serious forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, as a result of exposure to deadly asbestos fibers in Johnson & Johnson products such as the company’s iconic Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.

An estimated 16,000 asbestos cancer lawsuits had been consolidated in a multidistrict litigation before the federal judge in a process in which she would make rulings on common discovery which would apply to each individual case. At issue was the expert testimony of eight witnesses put forth by the plaintiffs’ lawyers set to testify about how exposure to talc and asbestos can cause cancer based on epidemiological studies. Johnson & Johnson had sought to block the testimony of the experts by calling for a “Daubert” motion.

Fortunately for the plaintiffs, the judge conducting the evidentiary hearings determined that the experts may testify to certain areas of expertise. Had the judge ruled in Johnson & Johnson’s favor, it is likely that the plaintiffs would not have been able to carry on with their lawsuits to trial where victims could present evidence of the causal relationship between their exposure to talc and asbestos in Johnson & Johnson products and their development of cancer.

Pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson has announced that the company will cease sales of talc-based Baby Powder in the United States and Canada, calling it a “commercial decision” to wind down sales in those markets. Johnson & Johnson’s cornstarch based Baby Powder will continue to be sold in North America, which the company claims accounts for three-quarters of all the sales of its iconic cosmetic product, but that the talc-based version will continue to be distributed to overseas markets. While cornstarch-based sales dominate North American sales, overseas consumers overwhelmingly purchase the talc-based formula.

According to the company’s chairman of its North America consumer branch, Johnson & Johnson will continue to sell its existing inventory through retailers until the product runs out. Although Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder accounts for less than 1% of the company’s overall sales, which have seen sharp declines over the past few years, the product is one of the company’s flagship items and has been used by millions of individuals for many decades.

While Johnson & Johnson may publicly state that its move to discontinue sales of talc-based Baby Powder in North America may be a market driven decision, the truth may actually be that the company is finally feeling the pressure of the 20,000 talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits it is facing. Those claims allege that Johnson & Johnson acted negligently when it failed to provide warnings to consumers about the risks of using its talc-based cosmetics products, and that the company knew for decades about the risk of asbestos contamination in products like Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.

The family of a former Penn State University professor recently filed an asbestos cancer lawsuit against the school alleging that the victim passed away from mesothelioma cancer that he developed after years of working in dangerous conditions at the educational institution. The lawsuit seeks to recover compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering and hold the university responsible for knowingly placing the victim at undue risk in unsafe work environments.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in a Pennsylvania state court in Pittsburgh in 2016, the victim developed mesothelioma as a result of working in buildings which the university knew were constructed with asbestos in floor and ceiling tiles and insulation. The lawsuit alleges that the victim was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer in 2014 and passed away just four months later, 12 years after retiring from teaching as a wood sciences professor.

The asbestos cancer lawsuit against Penn State cites a study conducted by the university in the 1970s which showed that almost one hundred buildings on its campus were built with asbestos materials. However, despite this knowledge, the school eventually ceased asbestos abatement in 1989 after administrators cited budgetary concerns, noting that “In all future projects, our goal should be to minimize the removal of asbestos to only what is absolutely required. Obviously, this will help us a lot in the area of project budgets.”

A Florida state jury recently handed down a substantial $9 million verdict in a talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuit brought by an 82-year-old woman who claimed she developed mesothelioma from years of using talc-based products contaminated with carcinogens. The talcum powder cancer lawsuit named New Jersey-based pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson as the defendant, claiming that the company knew for decades about the risk of asbestos in its talcum powder products but provided no warnings to consumers.

The verdict comes just days after a New Jersey jury handed down an even larger verdict on behalf of four plaintiffs who claimed they too developed various forms of cancer from using Johnson & Johnson’s iconic Baby Powder. In that case, the jury determined that the plaintiffs were entitled to $750 million in compensatory and punitive damages, though that verdict will be reduced in accordance with New Jersey state law.

In the Florida case, the Miami jury heard testimony that Johnson & Johnson executives knew as far back as the 1960s that talc mined from deposits in Vermont and Italy contained asbestos fibers but failed to provide any warning to consumers about the risks of asbestos exposure. As a result of years of exposure to asbestos fibers in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, the plaintiff developed mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer that commonly affects thin linings of tissue surrounding vital organs such as the lungs, abdomen, and heart.

An Illinois state appeals court recently upheld a substantial $4.6 million verdict in a mesothelioma cancer lawsuit brought by a union pipefitter who worked with products manufactured by John Crane, Inc. during the 1950s. In its ruling, the First District Appellate Court determined the trial court was right to allow the plaintiff’s attorneys to present expert testimony showing the victim’s asbestos cancer diagnosis was a result of exposure to asbestos fibers while working with John Crane products.

In his lawsuit, the plaintiff testified that he suffered from significant asbestos exposure from valves and gaskets, including those manufactured by the defendant. At trial, the plaintiff’s expert witness testified that the products manufactured by John Crane were a substantial contributing factor to the victim’s mesothelioma cancer diagnosis. Defense attorneys harped on testimony by this expert for the plaintiffs in which he explained the nuances in the relationship between asbestos exposure and developing mesothelioma cancer.

Additionally, the defendant took issue with the jury instructions given to the panel to help them reach a decision during their deliberations. These jury instructions are a standard part of our judicial system and both inform the jury of the legal standards for reaching a verdict and how they must apportion responsibility in civil cases. John Crane’s attorneys had asked the judge to give the jurors specialized jury instructions pattered for the particular case, though the trial judge determined that the Illinois state pattern instructions were sufficient.

After nearly a two-week-long asbestos cancer trial, pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson agreed to a rare settlement with the plaintiff who alleges she developed a rare and deadly form of lung cancer as a result of using one of the company’s most popular and iconic talc-based products. As part of the settlement, the New Jersey-based company reportedly agreed to pay the plaintiff $2 million and resolve the case without admitting any wrongdoing in the matter.

The settlement is a rare move by Johnson & Johnson, which faces an estimated nearly 17,000 other cases alleging plaintiffs developed serious forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, from using asbestos-contaminated talcum powder products produced and marketed by the company. To date, jurors in state courts in California, Missouri, and New Jersey have handed down verdicts in favor of plaintiffs totaling over $5 billion in total compensation, including punitive damages for what the juries deemed especially reckless conduct on Johnson & Johnson’s part.

Johnson & Johnson was not the only defendant in the case to reach a settlement. The 61-year old plaintiff also named London-based Rio Tinto Minerals as a defendant, which reportedly mined the talc that was used in the Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder the plaintiff allegedly developed mesothelioma from. As a result of settlements with all parties involved, the Oakland County jury was dismissed and will no longer need to deliver a verdict in the case.

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky recently appeared in a New Brunswick, New Jersey courtroom to testify in a talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuit brought by four plaintiffs who claim they developed a serious form of cancer from years of using one of the company’s most iconic products. The talcum powder lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure from using Johnson & Johnson products like Baby Powder and Shower to Shower while the pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant knew about the risk posed to consumers but chose not to provide any safety warnings on the products.

During his testimony, Gorsky indicated that he relied on company experts when he announced on national television that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos and was safe for consumers to use. Despite Gorsky claiming that he did not have firsthand knowledge of the science behind Baby Powder risks, revelations have surfaced in recent months that the company knew for decades about possible risks and that the company still chose to market its products to vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson was forced to issue a recall of 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder after independent testing conducted on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered the presence of asbestos fibers in the product lot. Those tests have since spurred Congressional oversight committees to call for standardized testing methods and terminology to dispel ambiguity about how results are interpreted and ensure the public at large is protected from products containing deadly asbestos.

Johnson & Johnson’s long time talc supplier is reportedly shopping the sale of its North American talc operations after filing for bankruptcy under the weight of thousands of asbestos cancer lawsuits in which the company was enjoined with the pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant. Those lawsuits, which thus far have produced billions in plaintiffs verdicts, claim that Johnson & Johnson and Imerys produced and marketed talc-based products like Baby Powder and Shower to Shower which contained deadly asbestos fibers and caused the victims’ debilitating and often fatal health conditions.

Among the assets up for supposed sale, Imerys is reported to consider selling strategic alternatives that could include the sale of business in North America as a whole. In February 2019, Imerys filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing that the company was facing more than 14,000 lawsuits in the United States at the time. Reports stress that deliberations are still at an early stage and that no final decisions have been reached as of yet.

The reports are significant in that the proceeds from the sale of Imerys’ North American talc operations could be used to fund settlements of talcum powder cancer lawsuits, through some form of a trust. To do so, Imerys would ultimately need to negotiate with creditors, which would include insurers and those parties involved in asbestos cancer lawsuits.

Attorneys representing plaintiffs in thousands of talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits recently asked a federal judge to allow additional supplementation in evidentiary proceedings following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) testing of talcum powder products. The judge’s ruling in these key evidentiary proceedings are expected to have a tremendous impact on how the thousands of cases in federal court against pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson will play out over the coming months and years.

In October 2019, the FDA announced that samples taken from certain lots of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder tested positive for trace amounts of deadly asbestos fibers, prompting the company to issue a voluntary recall of an estimated 33,000 bottles of its iconic product. In the wake of those positive asbestos tests, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the FDA to obtain documents related to the lab tests, and asked Johnson & Johnson to provide discovery regarding the same materials.

Attorneys for the asbestos cancer victims have asked the New Jersey federal judge presiding over the key evidentiary hearings to allow the plaintiffs to include the additional information gathered in their legal briefs for the proceeding. Those proceedings, known as Daubert hearings, will decide which of the 39 expert witnesses named by both sides will be allowed to be presented to potential juries in the estimated 12,400 cases on the docket in federal courts across the country.

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