Johnson & Johnson to Appeal $18.8 Million Judgment in Cancer Case

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Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has been facing thousands of lawsuits alleging that its baby powder and other talc products contain asbestos, leading to ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. In a recent verdict, a California man, Emory Hernandez Valadez, was awarded $18.8 million by a jury after claiming he developed cancer due to exposure to J&J’s talc-based products since childhood. The trial was the first over talc that the company had faced in almost two years. 

Hernandez, only 24 years old, filed the lawsuit in California state court in Oakland seeking compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a deadly cancer affecting the tissue around his heart, which he attributes to his prolonged exposure to J&J’s talc.

Hindustan Times reported that despite the jury’s ruling in favor of Hernandez, the company was not ordered to pay punitive damages. However, Hernandez will likely be able to collect the judgment sometime soon, thanks to a bankruptcy court order that has frozen most litigation over J&J’s talc-based products. 

Erik Haas, J&J’s vice president of litigation, announced that the company intends to appeal the verdict, reiterating their position that their talc products are safe, do not contain asbestos, and do not cause cancer. Throughout the six-week trial, J&J’s lawyers argued that there was no evidence linking Hernandez’s type of mesothelioma to asbestos or proving that he had been exposed to contaminated talc. On the other hand, Hernandez’s legal team accused J&J of concealing asbestos contamination for decades. 

Hernandez testified during the trial, stating that he would have avoided J&J’s talc if he had been warned about the potential presence of asbestos. Jurors also heard from his mother, Anna Camacho, who used large amounts of J&J’s baby powder on her son during infancy and childhood. She emotionally described Hernandez’s illness during her testimony. 

The number of plaintiffs suing J&J over talc products, alleging asbestos contamination and its links to ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, is substantial. In April, J&J subsidiary LTL Management filed for bankruptcy in Trenton, New Jersey, proposing a settlement of $8.9 billion to resolve over 38,000 lawsuits and prevent new cases from emerging. This was the company’s second attempt to address talc-related claims in bankruptcy after a federal appeals court rejected a previous bid. 

While most litigation has been halted during the bankruptcy proceedings, Hernandez’s trial was allowed to proceed due to his short life expectancy, as determined by U.S. Chief Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan overseeing LTL’s Chapter 11. Hernandez’s form of mesothelioma is sporadic, setting his case apart from most lawsuits pending against J&J. Asbestos plaintiffs are seeking to have LTL’s latest bankruptcy filing dismissed, arguing that it was brought in bad faith to shield the company from further litigation. 

J&J and LTL have argued that bankruptcy is a more fair, efficient, and equitable way to deliver settlement payouts to plaintiffs, contrasting trial courts, which they likened to a “lottery” system with varying award outcomes. According to J&J’s bankruptcy court filings, the company has incurred approximately $4.5 billion in costs in talc-related verdicts, settlements, and legal fees. 

The outcome of the Hernandez case represents a significant development for J&J as it faces numerous lawsuits and ongoing challenges related to the safety of its talc-based products. Despite mounting legal actions and the bankruptcy filing by its subsidiary, LTL Management, the company’s continued stance on the safety of its products indicates that the talc litigation issue still needs to be resolved. 

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