CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Joe Satterley delivering his opening statement
Los Angeles, CA - A California state court jury heard opening statements Tuesday in the latest lawsuit to go to trial over the alleged presence of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s cosmetic talc products.
Plaintiff Amy Fong, 48, and her husband Put Fong sued the company after Fong developed mesothelioma that she claims was caused by inhaling asbestos fibers supposedly present in Johnson’s Baby Powder.
J&J argues the talcum powder-based products Fong used never contained asbestos, and that she could have developed mesothelioma from being exposed to the harmful mineral while growing up near construction projects in Hong Kong.
The full trial is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network, which has similarly recorded and webcast the majority of trials to date involving J&J’s cosmetic talc products.
The trial is significant due to being the first case to go before a jury since J&J announced for the first time that it would voluntarily recall 33,000 bottles of baby powder that showed evidence of possible asbestos contamination.
While he did not reference the recall during his opening statement, Fong’s attorney Joe Satterley of Kazan Mcclain Satterley & Greenwood told jurors that J&J knew for years their talc products contained asbestos but withheld the information from the public to preserve sales of popular products.
"There's been over, well over 50 bottles, historical bottles of Johnson & Johnson, baby powder that's been tested by experts and have found asbestos and asbestos fibers in it," Satterley said.
He argued that asbestos allegedly present in the Baby Powder she used for decades is the most likely cause of Fong’s cancer and rejected assertions often raised in talc trials by J&J that mesothelioma can develop spontaneously.
"This is a needless cancer, preventable," Satterley told jurors. "If you're not exposed to asbestos, you don't develop mesothelioma."
J&J attorney Kimberly Olvey Branscome of Kirkland & Ellis LLP argued during her opening statement that if asbestos was present in products as widely used as baby powder that mesothelioma supposedly linked to it would be more common.
“The evidence will show that hundreds of millions of people have used Johnson's baby powder, and yet out of the 325 million people in the United States, mesothelioma is still an incredibly rare disease," she said.
Branscome argued that J&J took numerous steps to monitor its talc supply chain and ensure is products were safe.
"The company extensively tested the talc that was going into its products," she said.
Fong’s trial comes on the heels of a string of recent talc verdicts in Los Angeles County, after trial dates that had been delayed due to removals to federal court were rescheduled.
J&J prevailed at two of the trials, one of which was a retrial of a case that ended in a hung jury in 2018, and a third trial ended in a $40 million plaintiff verdict.
Judge David Cunningham is presiding over the trial, which is expected to run through most of November.
Prior to the start of the trial J&J filed a motion seeking to bar news media cameras from covering the proceedings, as the company has done at nearly every cosmetic talc trial to date subject to electronic media coverage. However those objections were overruled by Judge Cunningham.
CVN will be present for the duration of the proceedings, which are available both live and on-demand. After the trial’s conclusion it will become available to CVN video library subscribers, along with numerous other talc and asbestos trials from throughout the country.
The case is captioned Pui Fong, et al., v. Johnson & Johnson, case number BC675449, in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
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