In Lanzo v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc. and Imerys Talc America, Inc., the jury awarded $117 million for 45 year-old Stephen Lanzo’s asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. Lead trial attorney Joe Satterley explained that this historic victory was based on confidential internal Johnson & Johnson documents that proved that “Johnson & Johnson and its supplier Imerys knew since the 1960’s that the talc used in Johnson’s Baby Powder contained asbestos, and that this might cause the companies to face litigation risks forty years in the future. Now, just as Johnson & Johnson’s confidential documents predicted, my client, a lifelong baby powder user, developed mesothelioma.”
In the first phase of the three-month long trial, the jury awarded $37 million in compensatory damages, with $30 million to Stephen Lanzo, and $7 million to his wife Kendra for her loss of Stephen’s care, comfort, and society. The jury allocated 70% responsibility to Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc. and 30% responsibility to talc supplier Imerys Talc America, Inc. In the second phase of the trial, the jury awarded $70 million in punitive damages, $55 million against Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc. and $25 million against Imerys Talc America, Inc.
At trial, corporate representatives for Johnson & Johnson and Imerys appeared to testify, and admitted that these companies knew since the 1960’s that asbestos exposure causes cancer. In 1969, Johnson & Johnson developed Project 101, in which Johnson & Johnson’s medical doctor warned that because of the risk of lung diseases and cancer “it would seem to be prudent to limit any possible content of Tremolite [a form of asbestos] in our powder formulations;” acknowledged that “we could become involved in litigation” as a result; and advised that J&J’s “Law Department should be consulted with regard to the defensibility of our position.”
In 1974, the Manager of Research & Development in Johnson & Johnson’s talc mining subsidiary wrote a CONFIDENTIAL report that “fibrous anthophyllite” and “fibrous amphibole minerals and chrysotile asbestos” in Johnson & Johnson’s Vermont talc supply presented “a severe health hazard.” Talc-supplier Imerys also tested the Vermont talc ore, and concluded that it contained asbestos. Nevertheless, Imerys proceeded to purchase the Vermont talc mines, and became the exclusive supplier of talc for Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America.
In 1991 Professor Alice Blount of Rutgers University published an article documenting asbestos in Baby Powder. Although the published article did not identify the brand of Baby Powder that contained the asbestos, Johnson & Johnson had the “key” for Professor Blount’s article that identified it as Johnson’s Baby Powder, sourced from Windsor, VT. Notably, Johnson & Johnson and Imerys’ experts conceded at trial that this report proved that Johnson’s Baby Powder contained asbestos.
Additionally, Plaintiffs’ expert Dr. William Longo tested bottles of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and found that they contained asbestos. These tests included bottles containing Chinese talc, Johnson & Johnson’s current source for talc used in Johnson’s Baby Powder.
Talc-supplier Imerys’ internal email correspondence showed that Imerys attempted to avoid talc regulation by federal agencies by creating “confusion,” and employing changing definitions as to the meaning of “asbestos.” Internally, Imerys’ lead scientist questioned the reliability of the RJ Lee Group—the very experts Johnson & Johnson and Imerys used to defend itself in this litigation—calling the RJ Lee Group “unethical” and a “pariah.”
This historic verdict is distinguishable from previous trials based on ovarian cancer, because Plaintiffs proved in Lanzo that the talc used in Johnson’s Baby Powder contains asbestos. Trial counsel Denyse Clancy stated: “Notable about this case was that the first question the jury answered in the affirmative was that Stephen Lanzo was exposed to asbestos as a result of his use of Johnson’s Baby Powder from 1972 to 2003.”