Emily Field reporting for Law 360
Johnson & Johnson was hit with $300 million in punitive damages on Friday after a New York state jury found the company responsible for a woman’s mesothelioma she developed after decades of using J&J talc bath products.
The jury earlier in May awarded plaintiff Donna Olson, 66, and her husband, Robert Olson, $25 million in compensatory damages, bringing the total verdict to $325 million. Donna Olson’s 2017 suit claimed that her daily use of J&J’s baby powder and scented Shower to Shower products from 1953 through 2015 had caused her pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs.
“With this verdict, yet another jury has rejected J&J’s misleading claims that its talc was free of asbestos,” Olson’s attorney said in a statement. “The internal J&J documents that the jury saw once more laid bare the shocking truth of decades of cover-up, deception and concealment by J&J of the asbestos found in talc baby powder.”
In imposing punitive damages, the jury found that there was clear and unequivocal evidence that J&J’s misconduct was wanton and reckless.
A spokeswoman for J&J told Law360 that there were “significant legal and evidentiary errors” that the company believes will warrant reversal of the verdict on appeal.
“Decades of tests by independent experts and academic institutions repeatedly confirm that Johnson’s baby powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer,” the spokeswoman said.
Of all the verdicts against Johnson & Johnson that have been through the appellate process, every one has been overturned.
After a verdict on May 21, the company released a statement blasting the testimony of Donna Olson’s microscopy expert, William Longo, who has testified for the plaintiffs in many talc trials that he has found asbestos in J&J talc samples.
“This trial suffered significant legal and evidentiary errors — one of the most egregious being the demonstrably false testimony from the plaintiff’s central expert, which prompted us to move for mistrial,” the company said. “As the jury was prevented from being made aware of the falsities in his testimony, we believe these errors will warrant a reversal on appeal.”
On May 5, J&J urged the trial court to strike Longo’s testimony. J&J argued that the plaintiffs had told the company that the talc samples Longo was testing came from a “disinterested ‘collector,'” but failed to reveal that the collector, Steven Berkness, was a relative of a lawyer formerly employed by Kazan McClain Satterley & Greenwood, a law firm that has brought talc claims against J&J. J&J noted that this firm has served as co-counsel with Levy Konigsberg in two talc cases that ended in a $117 million verdict and a nearly $29.5 million verdict.
J&J also argued that Longo lied when he testified he had never tested cosmetic talcum powder before 2017, when the truth was he had tested the substance back in 2002, and those earlier tests showed no asbestos.