Johnson & Johnson persuaded an appeals court to throw out a $117 million award to a banker who alleged the company’s iconic baby powder caused his cancer.
Since the New Jersey judge in Stephen Lanzo III’s case erred in allowing some of his experts to testify, J&J and a unit of Imerys SA deserve a new trial, the appellate court ruled Wednesday. Jurors in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where J&J is headquartered, concluded in 2018 that asbestos in the company’s talc-based powder was a substantial factor in the Lanzo’s developing mesothelioma.
The New Jersey ruling comes as J&J currently faces a California woman’s claims that its baby powder caused her mesothelioma, a form of cancer linked to asbestos. That trial began this week in state court in Oakland. J&J, which pulled baby powder from the U.S. market in 2019, denies its former talc products contain asbestos or cause cancer.
J&J now faces 25,000 suits from ex-baby powder users who claim talc caused their cancers. That’s almost a 39% jump in the number of cases from last year. J&J in February set aside nearly $4 billion to cover the cost of talc verdicts and settlements. It’s also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the largest talc award against it, a $2.1 billion verdict in a Missouri case.
Kim Montagnino, a J&J spokeswoman, hailed the appellate panel’s ruling as a turning point in the talc litigation because it places restrictions on experts used by talc plaintiffs to prove asbestos caused their cancers. The judges concluded “paid experts are not allowed to present junk science that purports to find asbestos where there is none,” Montagnino said in an emailed statement.
Lanzo’s lawyer said Wednesday he was disappointed by the ruling and would ask the New Jersey Supreme Court to review it. At the time of the verdict, Lanzo worked as an institutional sales director for Bank of America’s wealth management arm.
The appeals court concluded Judge Ana Viscomi erred in allowing two experts to testify certain minerals found in talc deposits could cause mesothelioma. Asbestos is often found where talc is mined and plaintiffs’ contend J&J and Imerys failed to sift the cancer-causing material out of the baby powder. In 2019, J&J recalled more than 30,000 baby powder bottles after federal regulators found they were tainted with asbestos.
“The trial court did not perform its gate-keeping function” by allowing the experts to tell jurors the minerals could have caused the talc to be laced with asbestos, the appellate panel wrote. Lanzo argue years of baby powder use caused his cancer.
Jurors awarded punitive damages in the case after Lanzo’s lawyer argued J&J executives knew for more than 40 years ago that their talc products were laced with asbestos and hid that fact to protect the cornerstone of their baby products line.
The case is Lanzo v. Cyprus Amex Minerals Co., Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No. A-5711-17
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