CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Joseph Satterley delivering his closing argument
Oakland, CA - A California state court jury awarded $18.8 million on Tuesday to a 24-year-old man alleging he developed cancer from exposure to asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder, in the first trial since the company halted their talc-related litigation two years ago with a controversial bankruptcy filing.
The Alameda County jury agreed plaintiff Emory Hernandez Valadez developed mesothelioma - a form of cancer often associated with asbestos exposure - due to years of using popular products like Johnson’s Baby Powder that his attorneys argued were laced with asbestos.
The six-week trial marked the first time jurors decided a Johnson & Johnson talc case after J&J spun off their talc-related liability into a new subsidiary, LTL Management, and then had that entity file for bankruptcy in New Jersey where the company is headquartered.
The jury also cleared retailer defendants Safeway Inc. and Target Corporation, where Valadez claimed he purchased much of the baby powder in question, of all liability while assigning 100 percent liability to the Johnson & Johnson parent company and none to LTL.
J&J issued a statement after the trial saying they planned to appeal the verdict.
The full trial, including all expert witness testimony, was recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network. This trial along with numerous other cosmetic talc cases involving a variety of defendants are all available for unlimited on-demand viewing with a monthly or annual subscription to CVN’s online trial video library.
Lead plaintiff attorney Joseph Satterley of Kazan McClain Satterley & Greenwood told CVN after the trial he was relieved U.S. Chief Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan, who is overseeing the LTL proceedings, allowed this individual case to proceed due to Valadez’s rapidly failing health while all other J&J talc cases remain subject to the bankruptcy stay.
Satterley expressed confidence the verdict would withstand scrutiny at upcoming hearings in bankruptcy court before Judge Kaplan, noting that an $18.8 million award is fairly conservative for a 24-year-old plaintiff, and that the jury declined to award punitive damages.
“In the bankruptcy context it is a perfect verdict,” Satterley said. “If I would have gotten a much larger verdict they would have run to the bankruptcy court and said, ‘Look, a lottery verdict!’”
Satterley predicted the LTL bankruptcy would be dismissed either by Judge Kaplan or on appeal to the Third Circuit, and he sharply criticized a multi-billion settlement proposal that he said would provide identical payments to all talc plaintiffs regardless of the specifics of their case.
“The notion that J&J wants to pay everybody the same amount in bankruptcy is quite frankly outrageous,” he said.
Satterley revealed that J&J made no settlement offers before or during the trial, but said his client’s life was more valuable than any potential settlement or jury award.
“Emory would much rather have life and his ability to go to school and go to work and hang out with his friends than any amount of money,” Satterley said. “If the jury could have given him no cancer he would have happily said don’t give me a nickel.”
He also indicated he was not surprised the jury declined to assign any liability to the retailer defendants.
“Retailer liability is always difficult when you have the manufacturer present in the courtroom,” Satterley explained.
Erik Haas, J&J’s Worldwide Vice President of Litigation, said the company would appeal based on “erroneous rulings from the trial judge” that he claimed prevented the jury from hearing evidence supporting the argument Valadez’s “exceedingly rare form of mesothelioma was not caused by Baby Powder.”
“Without the benefit of that evidence, the verdict is irreconcilable with the decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer,” Haas said.
He also asserted the verdict has “absolutely no impact” on the bankruptcy process and suggested no part of the verdict will be paid while the bankruptcy proceedings continue, however Satterley indicated that even if the bankruptcy isn’t dismissed he will continue filing motions before Judge Kaplan to allow plaintiffs in rapidly failing health with particularly strong claims to get an expedited trial.
The trial took place before Judge Richard Seabolt.
The case is captioned Anthony Hernandez Valadez v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., case number 22CV012759 in Alameda County Superior Court.
E-mail David Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org