NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – Health care conglomerate Johnson & Johnson's alleged failure to honor its own pledge on the issue of asbestos and talc in its baby powder will end in a New Jersey woman being forced to pay the ultimate price, her attorney stated during opening arguments in the latest case over allegations its products caused mesothelioma.
The case is being held in the Superior Court of New Jersey - Middlesex County.
“By 1950, Johnson & Johnson had a stated policy of zero tolerance for asbestos in its baby powder,” Christopher W. Swett, an associate with Motley Rice LLC of South Carolina, stated during opening arguments Sept. 17. “By the 1950s, they knew asbestos causes disease. A manufacturer is never allowed to needlessly endanger the public, if it does and, as a result, someone is harmed the manufacturer is responsible for that harm.”
Plaintiff Rosalind Henry, 68, is now largely bedridden and was too weak to attend opening proceedings in her own trial after first being diagnosed with the deadly cancer in 2016. Since then, she has undergone six bouts of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and allegedly suffers from severe and persistent pain.
Access to the trial was provided courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Through her attorneys in the courtroom of Judge Ana Viscomi, Henry told the court she regularly used the defendant's baby powder on her first-born son and herself for more than a decade up until 1990.
Swett told the court the latency period for showing symptoms of mesothelioma can be as long as 40 years. The disease attacks the lining of the lungs and is one of the most-fatal forms of cancer once it takes effect.
“There was a time in this country when asbestos was intentionally added into commercial products,” Swett added in his opening. “It was known as the magic mineral, but over time medical scientists began to learn about the deadly characteristics of the magic mineral.”
Noting that doctors have warned even low traces of talc in baby powder is unacceptable, Swett stated that by the early 1970s, Johnson & Johnson made the decision not to alert consumers of its dangers and not to substitute other products like corn starch for talc.
“We’re here because of Johnson’s choices,” he said. “Johnson chose to violate its own safety rule by selling baby powder with asbestos from 1967 to 2003. The consumer didn’t have a choice.”
Before being diagnosed, Swett said Henry and her husband, Frederick, “were happy, loved to travel" and were “living the retirement life.”
In her opening, Johnson & Johnson attorney Diane Sullivan of Weil, Gotshal & Manges noted that not even Henry initially thought that the company’s more than 100-year-old baby powder caused her tragic condition, pointing out that Henry once told doctors she thought she may have contracted her cancer from working at an industrial plant in Philadelphia.
“The truth is Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder has been used safely for more than a century,” she said. “Johnson & Johnson is an anchor of New Jersey; you don’t stay in business by doing the kinds of things the plaintiff’s lawyers allege. Evidence will show they tested their products using the best technology available to make sure it was safe. They knew babies were using their products, their customers were using. They exceeded government and industry standards.”
Sullivan also told the court that Henry may have a genetic predisposition to cancer and once suffered from thyroid cancer. In addition, her sister suffered from uterine cancer and an aunt was treated for brain cancer. Henry also once resided in Philadelphia, which Sullivan noted, previously had the highest death rate in the country for mesothelioma.
“You’re going to hear that there are better explanations in science and medicine for Mrs. Frederick’s cancer than baby powder,” Sullivan added. “Over half the women in the country use Johnson’s Baby Powder. If it had asbestos that caused mesothelioma, there would be an epidemic.”
Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay a Verona, New Jersey couple at least $117 million following a trial over alleged traces of asbestos in the company’s baby powder.
In that ruling, banker Stephen Lanzo was awarded $37 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages, becoming the first person to successfully sue Johnson & Johnson in a case where a victim claimed to have contracted mesothelioma from using the company’s baby powder products.