A California state jury found Wednesday that although Johnson & Johnson's baby powder contained asbestos and a manufacturing defect, it was not a substantial factor in causing a woman's malignant mesothelioma, ruling in favor of the pharmaceutical giant.
The jury found that Carla Allen was exposed to asbestos in Johnson's Baby Powder, but it also found that the baby powder did not "fail to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected when used or misused in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way," freeing the company from claims of a design defect.
Allen filed suit in March, alleging negligence on the part of J&J for engaging in "conduct so despicable, contemptible, base, vile, miserable, wretched and loathsome as to be looked down upon and despised by ordinary people" that it "justifies an award of punitive and exemplary damages."
Allen claims that J&J, and its associated entities, knew its products contained asbestos and that they were likely dangerous. From the late 1960s to the early 2000s, Allen says she was exposed to the talcum powder products in question. In January, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which, she says, is a result of J&J's negligence.
On Wednesday, a jury sided with the pharmaceutical giant. It found that the baby powder used by Allen had potential risks that were knowable in light of scientific knowledge available at the time of manufacture, distribution or sale. But it also found that the potential risks of the baby powder used by Allen did not present a substantial danger to her, freeing the company from claims of a failure to warn.
"We are very happy with the outcome of this case for Johnson & Johnson," the company's attorney, Kimberly Branscome of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, said in an email. "Although we of course empathize with Ms. Allen and her family, we see this verdict as confirmation of the extensive independent scientific evidence establishing the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder."
Allen's attorney David Greenstone said in an email that while he respects the jury and its process, he's finding it difficult to understand the outcome.
"The jury found that the Johnson & Johnson product contained asbestos, and they found our client was exposed to it," he said. "They even found that Johnson’s baby powder had a manufacturing defect and contained known risks. And yet, they found it didn’t cause her mesothelioma. Those findings don’t seem to agree with each other."
Last month, J&J defeated claims in New Jersey state court that a woman's alleged exposure to asbestos in its baby powder contributed to her mesothelioma, scoring a jury trial win about six months after the company and a co-defendant were slapped with verdicts totaling $117 million in a similar case.
In the New Jersey trial, seven jurors unanimously sided with the pharmaceutical giant by rejecting allegations from plaintiff Rosalind Henry and her husband that the company sold asbestos-containing baby powder and that Henry's exposure to the toxic mineral in the product played a substantial role in her contracting the deadly disease.
Six months earlier jurors in the same New Jersey courtroom awarded verdicts totaling $117 million in damages against J&J and its talc supplier over claims that a man's exposure to the company's alleged asbestos-containing talcum powder contributed to his mesothelioma. The judge later upheld those verdicts, which J&J is now appealing.
Allen is represented by David C. Greenstone and Conor Nideffer of Simon Greenstone Panatier PC.
Johnson & Johnson is represented by Kimberly Branscome, Chad Morriss and Jay Bhimani of Kirkland Ellis LLP.
The case is Allen v. Brenntag North America Inc. et al., case number DR180132, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Humboldt.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE NOVEMBER 14, 2018 EDITION OF LAW360 © 2018 PORTFOLIO MEDIA INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. FURTHER DUPLICATION WITHOUT PERMISSION IS PROHIBITED. WWW.LAW360.COM