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On June 12, 2019, a jury in California ruled in favor of plaintiff Patricia Schmitz, a woman who attributed her terminal cancer on talcum-based products made by Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive. Schmitz was awarded $4.8 million in damages from both Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive. Despite the nearly $10 million she was awarded, Schmitz was not awarded punitive damages.
In the lawsuit, Schmitz said she developed mesothelioma after using both Johnson & Johnson baby powder and Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet. The Alameda County Superior Court jury determined that it was that three products, Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, and Shower to Shower products and Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet, had contained asbestos that likely caused her terminal mesothelioma. The jury also determined that the consumer product companies were aware their products contained asbestos, but failed to warn their customers, and as such found the companies guilty of negligence. However, the Alameda the jury could not agree if the companies acted with “malice, oppression or fraud.” If the jury had ruled the company had acted with malice Schmitz would be entitled to punitive damages.
J&J, a pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods manufacturing company that was founded in 1886, has been under fire lately. The company is dealing with more than 13,000 talc-related lawsuits, which have been all over the map in regards to awarding damages. In May, J&J was ordered to pay $300 million in punitive damages to a New York woman who blamed her cancer on J&J’s talc-based products. Meanwhile, the same day jurors cleared the company in a similar case in South Carolina cleared the company of liability. In March, a woman who also has mesothelioma was awarded $29 million by a California jury.
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J&J has denied any and all allegations that its talc causes cancer, citing numerous studies and tests worldwide that have shown that its talc is safe and asbestos-free.
Following the verdict, a spokesperson for J&J said that they will be pursuing an appeal.
“We will pursue an appeal because Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer, as supported by decades of independent clinical evidence,” said the spokesperson. “There were serious procedural and evidentiary errors in the proceeding that required us to move for mistrial on multiple occasions and we believe provide strong grounds for appeal.”
Similarly, a spokesperson for Colgate said the company plans to appeal the ruling, and noted that they discontinued selling the Cashmere Bouquet product in 1995.
“Colgate is disappointed with the jury verdict, which we believe is inconsistent with the facts and evidence presented at trial. This trial suffered from numerous significant legal and evidentiary errors that we believe unfairly prejudiced the defense,” said the spokesperson. “Most notably, the testimony of Colgate’s corporate representative was limited so that the jury was not allowed to hear live and complete evidence about Colgate’s extensive and state of the art talc testing program that was recognized by the FDA.”
J&J has struggled with its baby care unit, relaunching its namesake baby product line last year in hopes of reversing the decline in sales. The company has dealt with a significant sales drop-off because millennial moms have been swayed by all-natural products from newer companies.