New Brunswick, NJ - Opening statements in the third lawsuit to go to trial in Johnson & Johnson’s home state of New Jersey over the alleged presence of asbestos in the company’s popular cosmetic talc products took place on Monday.
Monica Cooper of the Lanier Law Firm, representing plaintiff Ricardo Rimondi, told jurors that years of inhaling asbestos supposedly present in products like Baby Powder caused the middle-aged father of five to develop mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer often associated with asbestos exposure.
The gavel-to-gavel trial proceedings are being webcast live and recorded by Courtroom View Network, which also recorded the previous two J&J talc trials in New Jersey.
J&J denies their cosmetic talc products ever contained asbestos, and they accuse plaintiff attorneys of relying on faulty science. The company is represented by Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, the same firm that secured a defense verdict for J&J in the previous talc trial in New Jersey, along with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.
Cooper accused J&J during her opponent statement of failing to warn consumers about the alleged health risk their talc products posed in order to protect sales. She characterized talc products, which she said made up 5% of the company’s business, as a “golden egg.”
“The evidence will show Johnson & Johnson is responsible,” Cooper said, according to CVN’s webcast of the proceedings. “The motive was money. There’s nothing wrong with money, but money can be the root of evil.”
Cooper claimed J&J intentionally targeted Hispanics and African-Americans for talc-based talc powder sales, despite the company knowing cornstarch-based cosmetic powders posed much less of a health risk.
“They knew corn starch could be a substitute, but it didn’t make as much money,” Cooper said. “If you’re going to be honest, you put a warning label on it and they didn’t.”
J&J attorney Morton Rubin blasted Cooper during his opening for playing the “race card” and urged jurors not to let emotional sympathy sway their judgment.
“The facts are not as simple as ABC,” he said. “Johnson & Johnson has sympathy for the family, but that does not make this a valid case.”
He argued studies by government agencies and private institutions showed J&J’s talc products were safe.
“The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) started testing it in the 1970’s, the Harvard School of Medicine and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), where they found no asbestos,” he said.
The trial before Judge Ana Viscomi is slated to run through mid-April. It would likely have run longer, but for J&J’s talc supplier and former co-defendant Imerys Talc America dropping out of the case after declaring bankruptcy in February, citing the growing cost of defending talc-related lawsuits.
Meanwhile in California an ongoing J&J talc/mesothelioma trial (also being webcast by CVN) has been underway since early January.
Another trial is scheduled to begin next week in Long Beach, California and another the following week in Oklahoma City.
The New Jersey case is captioned Ricardo and Pilar Rimondi v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., case number L-2912-17 in Middlesex County Superior Court.
E-mail David Siegel at email@example.com