By Tina Bellon
(Reuters) – A New Jersey jury on Wednesday cleared Johnson & Johnson of liability in a lawsuit brought by a man who said that asbestos in the company’s talcum powder products caused his mesothelioma.
The jury delivered its unanimous verdict in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Brunswick, just miles from J&J’s headquarters, in the case of plaintiff Ricardo Rimondi.
J&J, which faces some 13,000 talc-related lawsuits nationwide, denies that its talc causes cancer, saying numerous studies and tests by regulators worldwide have shown its talc to be safe and asbestos-free.
Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday also settled three other mesothelioma talc cases pending in state courts in California, Oklahoma and New York, Chris Panatier, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Reuters.
Panatier declined to provide further details, citing confidentiality agreements.
Addressing the settlements, J&J in a statement said, “there are one-off situations where settlement is reasonable.”
J&J said it stood by the safety of its talc and would continue to vigorously defend the safety of baby powder.
“We do not have any organized program to settle Johnson’s Baby Powder cases, nor are we planning a settlement program,” the company said.
Referring to the Rimondi verdict, J&J said the company’s track record in the talc litigation underscored “the decades of clinical evidence and scientific studies by medical experts around the world” supporting the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.
J&J shares, which had been down slightly, turned positive after the jury verdict was announced and closed up 13 cents at $138.70.
Lawyers for the 58-year old Rimondi could not be reached for comment.
Rimondi in 2016 was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of cancer that has been linked to asbestos exposure.
He and his wife sued J&J in 2017. They alleged that Rimondi’s lifetime exposure to Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, another powder product containing talc sold by J&J in the past, caused his disease.
The jury returned its verdict in favor of the company after just half an hour of deliberations, according to a livestream of the proceedings by Courtroom View Network.
The healthcare conglomerate to date has faced 12 trials by plaintiffs claiming asbestos in talc caused their mesothelioma.
J&J has now been cleared of liability in four trials, with another five resulting in hung juries and mistrials. Three juries have found J&J liable, awarding a total of $172 million in damages. J&J is appealing those verdicts.
The majority of the 13,000 talc lawsuits against the company involve ovarian cancer claims. Juries in those cases have hit the company with verdicts as high as $4.69 billion.
Some of the ovarian cancer verdicts have been overturned on appeal on technical legal grounds, while the company’s other appeals are still pending.
“It remains true that of all the talc-related verdicts against Johnson & Johnson that have been through the appeals process, every one has been overturned,” the company said in its statement on Wednesday.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have more recently focused on arguing that asbestos contamination in talc caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
Reuters in December published a report detailing that the company knew that the talc in its raw and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos from the 1970s into the early 2000s – test results the company did not disclose to regulators or consumers.
J&J denies the findings of the Reuters report, which it describes as inaccurate and misleading. In emphasizing the safety of its baby powder, the company says that repeated tests of the powder never found asbestos and that it has cooperated fully and openly with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other global regulators.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Noeleen Walder)