Johnson & Johnson wins California lawsuit over cancer, baby powder

A California jury on Thursday ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson in a lawsuit by a woman who said she developed the cancer mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos in the company's talc-based products including J&J's Baby Powder.

The Los Angeles Superior Court jury's verdict, watched by a Reuters reporter through an online broadcast by Courtroom View Network, came in the first trial centering on claims that J&J's talc products contained asbestos.

J&J is separately battling thousands of cases claiming those products can cause ovarian cancer.

The lawsuit was filed by Tina Herford, who said she developed mesothelioma after using J&J talcum powder products that her lawyers claimed contained asbestos.

J&J said in a statement it was pleased with the verdict. The company said it believed that setbacks dealt to individuals pursuing the ovarian cancer cases had "forced plaintiff attorneys to pivot to yet another baseless theory."

"Johnson's Baby Powder has been around since 1894 and it does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma or ovarian cancer," J&J said.

The jury also found in favor of talc supplier Imerys Talc.

Chris Panatier, Herford's lawyer, in an email cautioned against reading too much into a single verdict, adding that J&J "is still selling contaminated baby powder."

"It is a matter of time before juries begin holding them to account," he said. "We just missed on the first one."

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer closely associated with exposure to asbestos that arises in the delicate tissue that lines body cavities, most often around the lungs, but also in the abdomen and elsewhere.

Herford's lawyers contended that internal J&J documents showed the New Jersey-based company for decades was aware of the presence of asbestos in the talc that was used in its products but nonetheless continued to sell it.

J&J continues to fight lawsuits by around 5,500 plaintiffs nationally asserting talc-related claims. Most of the plaintiffs are women who say J&J failed to warn them about the risk of developing ovarian cancer from the products.

In five trials in Missouri involving ovarian cancer lawsuits, juries found J&J liable four times and awarded the plaintiffs $307 million. In California, a jury awarded a now-deceased woman $417 million.

But in October, J&J scored major victories when a Missouri appellate court threw out the first verdict there for $72 million and a California judge tossed the $417 million verdict.

The case is Herford et al v. AT&T Corp et al, Los Angeles Superior Court, No. BC646315.

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