A New Jersey jury began deliberations Thursday in a case brought by four mesothelioma patients who blame asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder for their disease, which their attorney said was caused because the pharmaceutical giant didn’t want consumer warnings to put its “golden egg” product at risk.
The cancer patients, who range in age from mid-40s to late 60s, sat feet away from the nine-member jury tasked with deciding their case as closing arguments concluded nearly eight weeks of testimony in a New Brunswick courtroom. Along with hearing impassioned final arguments by the patients’ attorneys, the jury spent the last day of the trial viewing contrasting images of patients projected onto a screen.
During a series one lawyer described as “better days,” a woman smiled in a sundress on a balcony, while three men grinned in photos depicting vacations, their children’s athletic events and volunteer work. Other pictures showed their time in the hospital, hooked up to equipment or photos of the long scars on their abdomens following surgery.
The world came “crashing in” when doctors told D’Angela McNeill-George she could no longer work because of her disease, according to the closing arguments. Douglas Barden is plagued by hallucinations and nightmares since his diagnosis, his lawyer said.
Will Ronning is still “all about his kids” despite his disease, and pastor David Etheridge learned about his illness while on vacation and endured surgery to have a 6.5-pound tumor removed, the jury heard.
“Johnson & Johnson is responsible for these entirely preventable and deadly cancers,” an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the jury. The talcum powder, which the plaintiffs claim they began using as infants, is “the golden egg, the gold mine” for the pharmaceutical giant”.
During testimony that began July 15 before Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Ana C. Viscomi, the parties have offered competing takes on internal company communications and asbestos testing conducted on talc sourced from Italy and Vermont mines and on the finished product itself.
Expert medical witnesses testifying on behalf of the company disputed the alleged link between the disease and the product and opined that the plaintiffs developed it spontaneously. A J&J corporate representative claimed the talc only contained non-asbestos versions of certain minerals.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have argued that corporate executives covered up findings of asbestos in the product, and slammed J&J’s reliance on studies showing that miners and millers who worked with the talc didn’t develop the disease, saying the studies excluded the oldest workers and didn’t follow up with others.
The patients in their own testimony described breathing in dust clouds of the product throughout their usage of it. They all have peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdomen.
Testimony was frequently interrupted by sidebars as the lawyers sparred about their adversaries’ examinations of witnesses. On Wednesday, Judge Viscomi struck the closing argument of Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP’s Diane Sullivan, who repeatedly suggested during her summation that attorneys for the four plaintiffs “created” evidence.
J&J is represented by Diane Sullivan and Jack Nolan of Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP.
The cases are Barden et al. v. Brenntag North America et al., case number L-1809-17; Etheridge et al. v. Brenntag North America et al., case number L-932-17; McNeill-George v. Brenntag North America et al., case number L-7049-16; and Ronning et al. v. Brenntag North America et al., case number L-6040-17, in the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey, County of Middlesex.