( June 8, 2018) A J&J talc trial for 22 women began last week in St. Louis. Six of the women plaintiffs have died of ovarian cancer. The 16 still alive also have ovarian cancer, which they said they got as a result of their daily use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products – either J&J’s Baby Powder or Shower to Shower. Their lawsuit charges that J&J willfully ignored evidence that the powder was tainted with deadly asbestos.
The 22 women hail from all across the nation. The court anticipates hearing from each of them or from a surviving family member over the course of the trial.
Related: J&J Talc Powder Cancer Lawsuit
Johnson & Johnson representatives and company lawyers say the talc in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower is a cosmetic grade that was, and is, free of asbestos. J&J says many scientific and governmental organizations that have investigated any talc-cancer link have not been persuaded.
But the women’s attorney, Mark Lanier, argued in opening statement that J&J worked furiously to keep the talc-asbestos evidence hidden from the public.
The Houston attorney told the jury of an Italian mine that supplied J&J’s talc for baby powder. The Italians warned J&J that they had asbestos in their talc mines. He said, “[T]he company sends two of their big dogs over to Italy to get in front of that company and say, ‘Please stop this English translation from going out until we can work on it and take out the asbestos section.’”
Rigged Talc Asbestos Tests?
Mr. Lanier told the jury he expected J&J’s defense attorney to show them “document after document” in his own opening in an attempt to prove the company performed hundreds of tests to rule out any possible asbestos in J&J talc products.
“They rigged the tests,” shrugged Mr. Lanier. “They rigged the tests.”
Mr. Lanier called J&J’s baby powder the company’s “sacred cow.” He said talc mines are “marbled” with asbestos like streaks. He said testing should be done on “concentrate” asbestos, like orange juice. He said asbestos doesn’t reveal itself via “onion properties” like smell, visibility, sneezing or eye-watering.
The defense attorney did not fall short of performing as Lanier had anticipated for the jury. “Millions of women who’ve used baby powder have not gotten cancer,” he said. “And most who have ovarian cancer did not use baby powder.”
“We believe and have always believed that there isn’t [asbestos in J&J talc],” said the defense lawyer. “Independent laboratories said there’s no asbestos. Universities and research centers said there’s no asbestos. Government agencies, no asbestos. Johnson & Johnson’s testing, no asbestos. The talc suppliers’ certificates, no asbestos.”
He said at least one of the plaintiffs had brought her own bottle of baby powder to a deposition, and when asked to read the back of the bottle, read, “Pure cornstarch”– not talc.
He further alleged that every one of the 22 women had a family history of cancer.
“Asbestos is everywhere,” the defense attorney told the jury. “[T]heir experts will say to you that everybody, you, me, everyone has asbestos in their tissue because of what is in the atmosphere. I don’t think there’ll be any dispute about that.”
Witnesses expected in this trial include materials scientist Bill Longo and mineralogist Dr. Alice Blount for plaintiffs. Matthew Sanchez of R.J. Lee Group and gynecological oncologists Cheryl Saenz and Warner Huh are expected to testify for J&J.
The trial for the 22 women is expected to last a couple of weeks. It comes on the heels of several previous talc-cancer trials over Johnson& Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower. It has been a mixed bag of results so far, as plaintiffs have won some and J&J has prevailed in some. In addition, some large verdicts for women have been overturned on appeal.
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