Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder contained asbestos for years, and the company hid this fact from consumers and regulators by using tests it knew wouldn’t detect the toxic mineral, counsel for a man alleging J&J products caused his mesothelioma said Tuesday during closing arguments in a New Jersey trial.
During the start of closing arguments in New Brunswick on Monday, J&J attorney Mike Brock of Kirkland & Ellis LLP told the jury that plaintiff Stephen Lanzo III’s daily use of J&J products for roughly four decades could not have caused his mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer of the lung, because years of testing had never turned up asbestos in either J&J’s talc mines or its products on store shelves.
On Tuesday, however, Lanzo attorney Moshe Maimon of Levy Konigsberg LLP told the jury that J&J’s testing was “unreliable” at best, and that in fact the company so valued the reputation of its baby powder, a corporate “sacred cow,” that it looked for testing methods that could only detect asbestos above a certain threshold — a threshold it knew wouldn’t be crossed by its talc products.
“They came up with the method that was never going to find the asbestos that was there, so they could certify that they looked and never found it,” Maimon said.
He said that he had promised the jury during opening statements that it would be undisputed that Johnson’s Baby Powder contained asbestos, and that “despite the protestations, despite the grand promises” by the defense, J&J’s own geology expert Matthew Sanchez admitted on the stand he could not dispute that.
Maimon said that there was evidence that J&J had made efforts to destroy or remove asbestos from its talc, and argued that this was evidence itself that J&J talc contained asbestos.
“Why would you try to remove, destroy, suppress, something that isn’t there?” he said.
Lanzo and his wife, Kendra, say he developed the deadly disease as a result of his years of exposure to asbestos in J&J talcum powder products, starting when his mother applied baby powder to him as an infant. J&J, its talc supplier Imerys Talc America Inc., and Cyprus Amax Minerals Co., an Imerys predecessor, are named as defendants. Lanzo’s is the second such trial in the country, along with a California case in November that J&J and Imerys prevailed in.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Ana Viscomi is presiding.
Daniel Seigel – Law360 reporting. (April 3, 2018)