Friday, 14 June, 2024
HomeMedico-LegalJ&J to pay $18.8m to dying man in talc suit

J&J to pay $18.8m to dying man in talc suit

After a six-week trial, a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $18.8m to a California man who said he developed cancer from exposure to its baby powder, a setback for the company that is seeking to settle thousands of similar cases over its talc-based products in the US bankruptcy court, reports Reuters.

Emory Valadez (24), who filed suit last year against J&J, said he developed mesothelioma, a deadly cancer and from which he is dying, in the tissue around his heart after heavy exposure to the company's talc since childhood.

The jury found he was entitled to damages to compensate him for his medical bills and pain and suffering, but declined to award punitive damages against the company.

Hernandez will not be able to collect the judgment in the foreseeable future, thanks to a bankruptcy court order freezing most litigation over J&J’s talc.

Erik Haas, J&J vice-president, said the company would appeal the verdict, and that it was “irreconcilable with the decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming Johnson's Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer”.

The company’s lawyers said there was no evidence either linking Hernandez’s kind of mesothelioma to asbestos or proving that he was ever exposed to tainted talc.

However, his emotional mother testified that she used large amounts of J&J’s baby powder on her son when he was a baby and through childhood, and cried as she described his illness.

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have sued, alleging that J&J’s baby powder and other talc products sometimes contained asbestos and caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

J&J subsidiary LTL Management in April filed for bankruptcy, proposing to pay $8.9bn to settle more than 38 000 lawsuits and prevent new cases from coming forward. It was the company’s second attempt to resolve talc claims in bankruptcy, after a federal appeals court rejected an earlier bid.

Most litigation has been halted during bankruptcy proceedings, but US Chief Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan, who is overseeing LTL’s Chapter 11, let Hernandez’s trial proceed because he is expected to live only a short time.

Hernandez’s form of mesothelioma is extremely rare, making his case different from the vast majority pending against J&J.

Asbestos plaintiffs are seeking to have LTL’s latest bankruptcy filing dismissed. They have argued the filing was brought in bad faith to insulate the company from litigation.

J&J and LTL have argued that bankruptcy delivers settlement payouts to plaintiffs more fairly, efficiently and equitably than trial courts, which they have likened to a “lottery” in which some litigants get large awards and others nothing.

J&J said in bankruptcy court filings that the costs of its talc-related verdicts, settlements and legal fees have reached about $4.5bn.

Meanwhile, in a separate talc-related case, the company is taking legal action against four doctors who published studies citing links between its talc-based personal care products and cancer, demanding retractions and alleging disparagement and fraud, among other claims.

LTL Management filed the lawsuit in a New Jersey federal court last week, asking it to force three researchers to “retract and/or issue a correction” of a study that said asbestos-contaminated consumer talc products sometimes caused patients to develop mesothelioma.

Although J&J denies asbestos contamination, it has stopped selling the products in favour of cornstarch-based products, citing an increase in lawsuits and “misinformation”.

In 2021, the company began exploring bankruptcy as a potential solution to the lawsuits, which saw a mixed record at trial, including several defence wins but also a verdict awarded to 22 women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in the talc products.

Last week’s lawsuit against pathologists Theresa Emory and John Maddox, and Richard Kradin, a pulmonologist who worked at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre before his retirement, comes hard on the heels of another complaint LTL filed in May against New York’s Dr Jacqueline Moline, on similar grounds.

Moline published an article in 2019 studying 33 patients who said their only exposure to asbestos came from talc products, and Emory, Kradin and Maddox followed up with a 2020 study of 75 similar patients.

All four doctors have provided expert testimony in lawsuits against J&J, and their research has been cited in lawsuits where they have not testified, according to the complaints.

LTL said the researchers concealed the fact that some or all of the patients involved in their studies had been exposed to asbestos from other sources.

The company also wants the court to force the researchers to disclose the patients’ identities.

Moline has argued in court papers that LTL’s litigation would have a profoundly chilling effect on future medical research if the company were allowed to unmask patients “in the hopes of publicly smearing them”.

Her court filings say that LTL’s lawsuit was meant to “attack and silence” scientists, and that she has an ethical obligation to protect the identities of her research subjects.


Reuters article – J&J must pay $18.8 million to California cancer patient in baby powder suit (Open access)


Reuters article – Johnson & Johnson sues researchers who linked talc to cancer (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


J&J claims fraud in paper linking talc to mesothelioma


Johnson & Johnson recalls baby power in US with trace amounts of asbestos


Cancer victims’ lawyers slam J&J’s second bankruptcy bid


J&J proposes settlement of billions in talc cancer claims








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