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Asbestos Contamination in Talcum Powder—the Next Wave in Asbestos Litigation?

James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. has represented people who have been injured or killed by asbestos exposure for more than 40 years. Asbestos can cause a number of serious and often fatal diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Talc is a soft mineral used in many industrial products such as rubber, plastic and ceramics, as well as various consumer products such as baby powder and cosmetics. Because talc and asbestos often occur in close proximity to each other, talc is often contaminated with asbestos fibers.  Cancer cases involving industrial talc have focused on asbestos contamination and its ability to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, but cancer cases involving consumer talc have focused on the alleged ability of talc to cause ovarian cancer. Companies that market products that contain talcum powder, like Johnson & Johnson (J & J), and their talc suppliers, like Imerys, are currently embroiled in thousands of cases alleging that exposure to products like baby powder caused women to develop ovarian cancer. 

In 2018, however, juries returned multi-million dollar verdicts in two cases where the plaintiffs asserted that they developed mesothelioma because of their exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc in consumer products. In April, 2017, a jury in New Jersey returned a verdict for $117 million against J & J and Imerys in a case where Stephen Lanzo argued that he developed mesothelioma after using J & J’s shower powder and baby powder for more than 30 years.  The jury awarded $30 million in compensatory damages to Mr. Lanzo, $7 million in compensatory damages to his wife, and $80 million in punitive damages.

More recently, in May, 2018, a California jury awarded $21.75 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages to Joanne & Gary Anderson. Joanne was an avid bowler who used baby powder in her shoes and on her hands for years, and also used baby powder to help with diaper rash when her children were young. According to the plaintiffs’ experts, she used baby powder more than 10,000 X. Like Mr. Lanzo in the New Jersey case, she developed mesothelioma. 

J & J was found to be liable for 2/3 of the compensatory damages and 100% of the punitive damages awarded in the case. Mrs. Anderson alleged that part of her asbestos exposure resulted from watching her husband work on his car. Honeywell/Bendix, Borg Warner and Fel-Pro, companies that manufactured asbestos-containing products used on cars, were found to be liable for 1/3 of the compensatory damages. A spokesperson for J & J has alleged that they will begin the appeals process,  and that they will continue to defend the safety of their products, which they maintain do not contain asbestos, and do not cause mesothelioma. 

These recent decisions, coupled with the fact that many people have been exposed to consumer products containing talcum powder (probably more than the number of people exposed to products incorporating industrial talc), suggest that asbestos contaminated consumer talcum products such as baby powder, may represent a huge new wave of asbestos litigation. Only time will tell. 

If you or a loved one has been injured by asbestos exposure, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.

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Sources:

Jenn Christian, CNN, 4/11/18, “New Jersey Couple Awarded $117 Million in Talcum Powder Case,” http://www.cnn.com/2018/04/06/health/talc-mesothelioma-asbestos…/index.html

Jenn Christiansen, CNN, 5/24/18, “Johnson & Johnson Hit With $25.75 Million Verdict in Talc-Asbestos Case,” http://www.cnn.com/2018/24/health/johnson…talc-asbestos…california/index.html