Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier Imerys America Inc., were hit with a combined $80 million in punitive damages on top of $37 million in compensatory damages awarded last week. A New Jersey state jury found the consumer health care giant was reckless in selling talcum powder products that it knew were contaminated with asbestos, which contributed to the development of a man’s malignant mesothelioma.
The verdict came after a more than two-month-long trial in the case of Stephen Lanzo III and his wife, Kendra. Lanzo claimed that he used Johnson & Johnson’s talc-containing products daily for three decades. His attorneys argued that the company knew that its talcum powder contained the carcinogenic fibrous mineral asbestos but failed to warn consumers. As a result, Lanzo claimed he developed the rare and deadly form of lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
The verdict comes just days after jurors awarded Lanzo $30 million in compensatory damages and an additional $7 million to his wife in the case. Johnson & Johnson was found responsible for 70 percent of the damages and Imerys for the remaining 30 percent. Today’s verdict saddled Johnson & Johnson with an additional $55 million in punitive damages and Imerys with an additional $25 million.
Compensatory damages help plaintiffs recover lost income and the cost of medical expenses. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are generally awarded at the court’s discretion as a punishment when a defendant’s behavior is considered particularly harmful.
Lanzo’s case is the second of its kind to go to trial alleging Johnson & Johnson and Imerys talcum powder products contain asbestos and contributed to the development of mesothelioma. The defendants prevailed in the first trial.
Johnson & Johnson faces more than 6,600 additional lawsuits over claims that its talcum powder products, like Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, cause cancer. Most of the cases allege that regular use of the company’s talc-containing products for feminine hygiene caused women to develop ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly claimed that there is no asbestos in its talcum powders. But documents in recent talcum powder trials have turned up evidence that the company was aware that its products could be contaminated with the cancer-causing mineral. Lanzo’s case could set an example for future talcum powder cases.