Johnson & Johnson’s 1st Post-LTL Bankruptcy Talc Trial Begins, Watch Gavel-to-Gavel via CVN

Posted by David Siegel on Jun 1, 2023 2:31:53 PM

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CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Joseph Satterley delivering his opening statement

Oakland, CA - A California state court jury heard opening statements Wednesday in a closely watched trial over claims that Johnson & Johnson’s cosmetic talc products contain asbestos - the first such trial since a controversial bankruptcy filing halted J&J talc cases nationwide - and the proceedings are being webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.

Plaintiff Emory Valadez, 24, sued J&J after developing pericardial mesothelioma, a rare and fatal form of cancer that is frequently associated with asbestos exposure. His lawyers argue years of exposure to talc supposedly present in products like Johnson’s Baby Powder going back to his infancy caused Valadez’s disease - an allegation J&J strenuously denies.

The federal court in New Jersey overseeing the Chapter 11 filing of LTL Management - an entity created by J&J to contain all of its talc-related liability - specifically allowed Valadez’s case to proceed to trial despite an automatic bankruptcy stay after Valadez’s attorney, Joe Satterley of Kazan McClain Satterley & Greenwood, repeatedly moved the court for an exception due to Valadez’s rapidly failing health.

During his opening statement on Wednesday, Satterley told the Alameda County jury that doctors initially did not believe Valadez would live past December of 2022, and that he is now not expected to survive the summer.

“This will take his life,” Satterley said, according to CVN’s webcast of the proceedings.

Satterley showed jurors pictures of Valadez as a baby with bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder visible. He said this refuted potential defense claims that a lack of receipts would prevent Valadez from proving he was specifically exposed to J&J’s products.

Satterley argued J&J knew for years that talc supposedly present in its cosmetic talc products posed a serious public health risk, but that it withheld that information from the public to protect the sales of popular brands.

He noted that while J&J sold both cornstarch and talc-based products (the company has since discontinued sales of talc-based powders), that J&J prominently displayed the cornstarch ingredient but kept any reference to talc concealed in small print in the list of ingredients.

The lawsuit also includes claims against six retailer defendants: Target, Albertsons, Walmart, Save Mart, Lucky and Safeway.

Satterley did not ask for a specific amount of damages during his opening statement, but during arguments in bankruptcy court defense attorneys for J&J represented that the case could be worth more than $40 million.

Representing J&J, attorney Allison Brown of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom told jurors during her opening statement that the plaintiffs rely on scientific studies linking talc exposure to cancer that are fundamentally flawed.

She noted that talc miners who have significantly higher levels of exposure to the mineral still don’t show greater numbers of mesothelioma cases than the general population.

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CVN screenshot of defense attorney Allison Brown delivering her opening statement

Brown told jurors Valadez suffers from an extremely rare form of cancer. She noted his father died of another form of rare cancer in his late 30’s, and that a number of other family members developed cancer at a young age.

She also expressed skepticism over where the talc powder Valadez was supposedly exposed to came from, telling jurors that some of the stores his mother claimed she bought the baby powder from were 100 miles away from their home.

“Your common sense will lead you to the truth about what’s going on here,” she said.

In a sign that Covid-19 still has the potential to disrupt in-person jury trials, the trial shifted into a hybrid online and in-person mode after a juror reporter a positive home test. Attorneys will remain present in the courtroom, but jurors and some witnesses will participate virtually at least until next Wednesday.

The full trial is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by CVN, which has similarly recorded numerous cosmetic talc trials throughout the United States, including previous trials involving both plaintiff and defense counsel in this current case.

The case is captioned Valadez v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., case number 22CV012759 in Alameda County Superior Court.

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Topics: Asbestos, California