CA Appeals Court Affirms $29 Million J&J Talc Powder Cancer Award

Legal News

A California appellate court upheld a $29 million jury award from 2019 to a woman who developed cancer, allegedly from using J&J’s talc baby powder for decades. 

The California Court of Appeal, First District, affirmed an Alameda County jury’s award for Teresa Elizabeth Leavitt, who testified that her mother had applied baby powder to her as a baby and developed mesothelioma as a result of J&J’s baby powder containing asbestos. 

The jury found J&J liable on negligence, design defect, failure to warn, and concealment claims, reported. The jury found the company 98% responsible for Leavitt’s diagnosis, leaving her with a compensatory damage award of $24 million. 

J&J, the world’s largest maker of health-care products, has been hit with more than 20,000 talc lawsuits. In most talc lawsuits, plaintiffs have alleged that using talc powder in the genital area caused them to develop ovarian cancer. In other talc lawsuits, plaintiffs have alleged that they developed mesothelioma after years of unknowingly inhaling talc particles. 

Leavitt testified that not only did she have talc powder applied to her as a baby, she also used J&J baby powder for her face and as a dry shampoo for 30 years. Diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017, Leavitt sued J&J in California state court that same year.

Raw talc, when it is mined, can become contaminated with asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral. Talc and asbestos are mined in close proximity to each other. 

J&J tried challenging the testimony of a scientist who detected asbestos in baby powder samples. Dr. William Longo sampled powder provided by J&J as well as “vintage” bottles. 

In May 2020, J&J discontinued North American sales of its talc-based baby powder.  In February, in a regulatory filing, the company disclosed that it was setting aside over $4 billion for talc litigation. And on June 1, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a 2018 Missouri court’s decision that awarded $2.1 billion in damages to 20 women who developed ovarian cancer, allegedly because of asbestos-contaminated talc.

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