Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson announced it would settle 1,000 talc lawsuits for $100 million. That’s 1,000 down and approximately 20,000 more lawsuits to go. Out of the 20,000 lawsuits that have not yet been settled, one just went to trial, marking the first talc lawsuit case to go to trial since the coronavirus shutdown in March. The trial in Oakland, CA also marks another first: Never before has a talc trial been held virtually on Zoom.
The fee-based Courtroom View Network, webcasted the proceedings of Reyes v. Johnson & Johnson (J & J). Louis Reyes, 54, alleges he developed mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer that affects the linings of the lungs as a result of multiple years of exposure to talc in baby powder and brake dust while pursuing his hobby of automotive repair.
Talc is a mineral that is mined from the Earth, oftentimes in close proximity to asbestos, another mineral which was classified in 1977 by the International Agency For Research On Cancer as a carcinogen. Last year, J & J voluntarily recalled a batch (33,000 bottles) of talc powder because some of the bottles tested positive for asbestos. And earlier this year, due to declining sales, J & J announced that it would discontinue sales of talc powder in North America. Dozens of organizations have called for J & J to pull talc powder off of shelves worldwide.
While asbestos contamination in talc is a well-publicized consumer liability story, relatively few people realize asbestos is found in many other consumer goods, including the automotive repair products that Reyes purchased and used over many years.
An attorney for Reyes pointed out in the virtual trial proceedings that the plaintiff was exposed to brake dust. Brake dust contains iron and other metallic particles that become airborne from the grinding of the brake pads and rotor. Changing out brake pads may have exposed Reyes to asbestos through inhalation. Breathing in asbestos particles has been linked to mesothelioma.
In addition to J & J, the following entities are defendants in the Reyes case: Bendix Corporation, a brake parts manufacturer; O’Reilly Automotive; and the retailers Safeway, Longs Drugs, and Lucky Stores.
Reyes’ attorney asked for an unspecified amount in damages in the millions, based on the fact that J & J and the retailers failed to alert the FDA or consumers about the potential hazard of asbestos in their products.
Attorneys for J & J countered by claiming that Reyes’ cancer was not caused by exposure to J & J’s talc powder, and that the company’s talc powder never contained asbestos. CVN reports that the accuracy of the tests presented in the virtual trial by Reyes’ attorney were disputed by an attorney for J & J.
According to Cancer.org, 3,000 people a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, J & J’s attorney claimed that Reyes suffers from a specific type of mesothelioma that is diagnosed less than 50 times a year in the U.S. How could such a widely-distributed product cause “an exceedingly rare type of cancer?” the attorney for J & J asked.
As of this writing, the trial has not concluded…