A California jury agreed that the company’s baby powder was a “substantial contributing factor” to her mesothelioma
A woman who says that asbestos in Johnson & Johnson products caused her incurable cancer was awarded $29 million by a California jury on Wednesday.
The California Superior Court in Oakland agreed that the company’s baby powder was a “substantial contributing factor” to her mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by the inhalation of asbestos.
The woman, Terry Leavitt, told the jury that she used the baby powder and another, now discontinued product with talc, Shower to Shower, throughout the 60s and 70s, according to Reuters. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017. After nine weeks of testimony from Leavitt and other medical experts, the jury sided with her.
This lawsuit is one of over 13,000 that Johnson & Johnson is currently facing over its talc baby powder. There are more than a dozen cases scheduled for 2019 alone.
The company said in a statement, shared with PEOPLE, that they plan to appeal the ruling.
“We will pursue an appeal because Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer. We respect the legal process and reiterate that jury verdicts are not medical, scientific or regulatory conclusions about a product. Decades of tests by independent, non-litigation driven experts and institutions repeatedly confirm that Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer. We believe these issues will warrant a reversal on appeal.”
Leavitt’s lawyer said that the jury’s decision was further proof that the powder is unsafe.
“Yet another jury has rejected J&J’s misleading claims that its talc was free of asbestos,” said Moshe Maimon, a lawyer for Leavitt, in a statement on Wednesday. “The internal J&J documents that the jury saw, once more laid bare the shocking truth of decades of cover-up, deception and concealment by J&J.”
Reuters examined decades of internal company and court documents, and determined that Johnson & Johnson had been aware from 1971 to the early 2000s that its product occasionally contained small amounts of asbestos, but never shared that information outside of the company.
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A Mount Sinai researcher wrote in a company letter in 1971 that he had detected a “relatively small” amount of asbestos in the baby powder. And in 1973, when the FDA considered a rule that required all cosmetics to contain no more than .01 percent asbestos, a scientist wrote in an internal note, “we may have problems,” the report alleged.
However, the Reuters report said that most testing found that there was no presence of asbestos in the company’s products.
Johnson & Johnson vehemently denied these allegations and told PEOPLE that the report was “an absurd conspiracy theory.” They said their baby powder “is safe and asbestos-free.”
“Studies of more than 100,000 men and women show that talc does not cause cancer or asbestos-related disease. Thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos,” the statement said.
The cases against Johnson & Johnson over alleged asbestos traces have been divided so far — three cases went to the plaintiffs, three to the company and five ended with a split jury.