Products Liability Law Daily Jury awards $750M in punitive damages in J&J baby powder case
Friday, February 7, 2020

Jury awards $750M in punitive damages in J&J baby powder case

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

Johnson & Johnson deemed to have acted in wanton and willful disregard for the safety risks posed by its asbestos-containing talc products.

Following the punitive damages phase of what was considered the first consolidated case against Johnson & Johnson by consumers who had asserted that they developed mesothelioma as a result of prolonged use of the company’s asbestos-contaminated baby powder and other consumer talcum powder products, a New Jersey Superior Court jury awarded a total of $750 million in punitive damages to four consumers whose peritoneal mesotheliomas had been caused by exposure to those products. According to the jury, the company had acted maliciously or in wanton and willful disregard for the safety risks to these consumers (Barden v. Johnson & Johnson, February 6, 2020).

All four consumers had filed strict liability, negligence, and breach of express and implied warranty claims against J&J and a number of other companies that had mined, milled, manufactured, sold, and marketed asbestos-containing talc and talc products (see the complaints for Barden v. Brenntag North America, Inc. and Ronning v. Benntag North America). According to the complaints, prolonged use of these products had caused the consumers to develop mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer. Each of the complaints further alleged that the named manufacturers and sellers had acted willfully, wantonly, and in concert with one another to withhold information from the plaintiffs and the general public about the known hazards associated with the use of, and exposure to, asbestos-containing products, specifically asbestos-containing talc and talcum powder.

Compensatory damages.On September 11, 2019, a New Jersey Superior Court jury found that exposure to asbestos from J&J’s talc powder products, including exposure to the company’s baby powder during infancy, was a substantial factor in causing each of the four consumers to develop peritoneal mesothelioma. The jury also found that J&J’s talc products were defective because the products lacked adequate warnings, failed to use safer alternative designs, and deviated from J&J’s own design specifications and standards. Based on these findings, the jury awarded compensatory damages in a total amount of $37.3 million. A separate trial was held to consider the issue of punitive damages.

Punitive damages. In phase two of the trial, which considered whether punitive damages were warranted, the jury concluded that in each case, J&J had acted in wanton and willful disregard for the safety risks to the consumers. Based on their conduct and in order to deter future misconduct, the jury, in each of the four plaintiffs’ cases, awarded punitive damages in the amount of $93,750,000 against J&J and $93,750,000 against Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc., the J&J subsidiary responsible for selling Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. According to a press release issued by Simon Greenstone Panatier, PC, one of the plaintiffs’ law firms, after the verdict was rendered, the judge who presided over the trial indicated that the award would be reduced to $186.5 million based on state law caps that limit punitive damages to five times the compensatory amount.

Chris Panatier, a Simon Greenstone attorney representing the plaintiffs, commented in the firm’s press release, "This case is really about the fact that J&J structured their last 50 years of conduct around concealing that there were, and have always been, asbestos fibers in their baby powder. They designed test methods that they knew lacked the sensitivity to detect the asbestos that was present and then on the occasions when asbestos was found, took steps to make excuses, blame non-existent contamination, delete and alter test results. The jury saw all of that." Levy Konigsberg LLP partner Moshe Maimon, who also represented the plaintiffs, added in his firm’s press release: "After reviewing the documents and hearing from the experts, yet another jury unanimously found that J&J’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower contained asbestos and rejected J&J’s decades-long public denials that its products are safe. This is a real public health issue that is just now being brought to light after decades of cover-up, deception and concealment by J&J."

The case is Docket No.: MID-L-1809-17 AS.

Attorneys: Robert E. Lytle (Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein & Blader, PC), Moshe Maimon (Levy Konigsberg LLP), Chris Panatier (Simon Greenstone Panatier, PC), and Chris Placitella (Cohen, Placitella, & Roth, PC) for the plaintiffs. Ronald Edward Hurst (Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP) for Brenntag North America, Inc. John C. Garde (McCarter & English, LLP) for Johnson & Johnson. John Christie Mc Meekin (Rawle & Henderson LLP) for Imerys Talc Americainc.

Companies: Brenntag North America, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc.; Imerys Talc Americainc

MainStory: TopStory JuryVerdictsNewsStory DamagesNews HouseholdProductsNews AsbestosNews NewJerseyNews

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