Johnson & Johnson must pay $18.8 million to a California cancer patient in a powder suit

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File

Bottles of Johnson’s baby powder are displayed at a store in New York City, the United States, on January 22, 2019.

Johnson & Johnson must pay $1[ads1]8.8 million to a California man who said he developed cancer from exposure to the baby powder, a jury decided Tuesday, a setback for the company that is trying to settle thousands of similar cases over its talc-based products in U.S. bankruptcy court .

The jury ruled in favor of Emory Hernandez Valadez, who last year filed a lawsuit in California State Court in Oakland against J&J, seeking monetary damages. Hernandez, 24, has said he developed mesothelioma, a deadly cancer, in the tissue around his heart as a result of heavy exposure to the company’s talc since childhood. The six-week trial was the first over talc that New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J has faced in nearly two years.

The jury found that Hernandez 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 won’t be able to collect on the judgment for the foreseeable future, thanks to a bankruptcy court order freezing most of J&J’s talc lawsuits.

J&J’s vice president of litigation Erik Haas said in a statement that the company will appeal the ruling, calling it “inconsistent with the decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming that Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer.”

An attorney for Hernandez could not immediately be reached for comment.

Reuters watched the trial through the Courtroom View Network.

In closing arguments to the jury on July 10, J&J’s lawyers said there was no evidence either linking Hernandez’s type of mesothelioma to asbestos or proving that Hernandez was ever exposed to tainted talc. Hernandez’s lawyers accused J&J during closing arguments of a “heinous” decades-long cover-up of asbestos contamination.

Hernandez testified in June, telling jurors that he would have avoided J&J’s talcum powder if he had been warned that it contained asbestos, as his lawsuit alleges. Jurors heard from Hernandez’s mother, Anna Camacho, who said she used copious amounts of J&J’s baby powder on her son when he was a baby and throughout childhood. She cried as she described Hernandez’s illness.

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have sued, alleging that J&J’s baby powder and other talcum powder products sometimes contained asbestos and caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. J&J has said its talc products are safe and do not contain asbestos, which has been linked to mesothelioma.

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

Most of the lawsuits have been halted during bankruptcy proceedings, but U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan, who is overseeing LTL’s Chapter 11 filing, allowed Hernandez’s trial to continue 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 of cases pending against J&J.

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

J&J and LTL have argued that bankruptcy makes settlement payments to plaintiffs more fair, efficient and equitable than litigation, which they have likened to a “lottery” in which some litigants win big prizes and others nothing.

J&J said in bankruptcy court that the cost of talk-related judgments, settlements and legal fees has reached about $4.5 billion.

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