California Jury Hits Johnson & Johnson With $29M+ Verdict In Latest Talc/Mesothelioma Trial

Posted by David Siegel on Mar 13, 2019 8:23:48 PM

Satterly closings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Joseph Satterley delivering his closing argument. Click here to see video from the trial. 

Oakland, CA - A California state court jury returned a $29.4 million verdict on Wednesday in a trial involving asbestos allegedly present in Johnson & Johnson’s cosmetic talc products.

The trial marks the first J&J talc verdict of 2019 and the first such verdict in the key asbestos hub of Alameda County. 

The lengthy trial, which began in early January, has been closely watched due to being the first J&J talc case to proceed to a verdict after the publication in December of widely read bombshell reports by Reuters and The New York Times about the supposed contamination of popular products like Baby Powder with asbestos. 

The full proceedings were webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network, which is similarly webcasting another ongoing J&J talc trial in the company’s home state of New Jersey. 

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Wednesday’s verdict consists of compensatory damages only, with jurors declining to award punitive damages. Jurors awarded $24.4 million to plaintiff Teresa Leavitt and $5 million to her husband Dean McElroy. 

The panel found J&J 98 percent responsible for Leavitt’s mesothelioma, while also assigning 2 percent liability to Cyprus Mines Corporation, which was no longer an active party in the case. 

To date plaintiffs had scored only one prior verdict in California in a J&J talc/mesothleioma trial, with other cases against the company ending in defense verdicts or mistrials. 

J&J claims their cosmetic talc products never contained asbestos and accuses plaintiffs of relying on faulty science driven by plaintiff attorneys seeking large verdicts. 

Talc cases have resulted in massive verdicts, including a $4.6 billion award last summer in a Missouri trial also filmed by CVN. While all those verdicts have been appealed, with some already thrown out, the headlines they generated spawned waves of new lawsuits. 

J&J currently faces over 13,000 lawsuits claiming their products caused either mesothelioma or ovarian cancer, with at least two more trials potentially beginning this month in addition to trials in progress in New Jersey and Oklahoma. 

J&J spokesperson Kimberly Montagino said the company is disappointed in the verdict and intends to appeal. 

"There were serious procedural and evidentiary errors in the proceeding that required us to move for mistrial on eight different points during the proceeding," Montagoni said in a statement. "Plaintiffs’ attorneys have fundamentally failed to show that Johnson’s Baby Powder contains asbestos, and their own experts concede that they are not recognizing the accepted definition of asbestos and are ignoring crucial distinctions between minerals that are asbestos and minerals that are not. We respect the legal process and reiterate that jury verdicts are not medical, scientific or regulatory conclusions about a product."

Leavitt is represented by Joseph Satterly of Kazan Mcclain Satterley & Greenwood and by Moshe Maimon of Levy Konigsberg. They’re the same team that delivered a $117 million verdict last year in the first J&J talc trial in New Jersey, a trial also recorded by CVN. 

J&J was represented by attorneys from Dentons and from Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP. 

The trial took place before Judge Brad Seligman. Gavel-to-gavel video of the proceedings, including many more talc and asbestos trials, is available to subscribers as part of CVN’s one-of-a-kind online trial video archive. 

Representatives for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The case is captioned Teresa Leavitt, et al v. Johnson & Johnson, docket number RG1782401.

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Topics: Products Liability, Asbestos, California, Talc