NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – In the trial of a man suing Johnson & Johnson over allegations the company's asbestos-tainted baby powder caused him to develop mesothelioma, Johnson & Johnson's attorneys on Wednesday attempted to pin the blame on a factory in Lima, Peru.
The factory possibly used asbestos in the production of drywall products during the time that plaintiff Ricardo Rimondi lived nearby.
Rimondi, 58, the father of five sons, is a native of Peru who was involved in police work in that country and later immigrated to the U.S. where he took up work as an order processor and packager until the onset of his illness.
Coverage of the trial in the New Jersey Superior Court for Middlesex County is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
“You could have looked at a map of Lima to see what surrounded the addresses where Mr. Rimondi lived and worked for 32 years,” asked Allison Brown of Weil Gotshal & Manges, the attorney for Johnson & Johnson, of plaintiff witness Dr. Jacqueline Moline.
“I could have done a lot of things,” said Moline.
Moline also appeared as a witness in the trial on Monday and is a physician with Northwell Health, a New York health care provider.
Brown asked Moline if in issuing a report saying that baby powder caused Rimondi’s mesothelioma, she should have first searched online to find out if Rimondi lived by a factory called Eternit, a construction wholesaler in Lima.
"I don't know if I’d be able to understand the full functioning of the (Eternit) company,” Moline said. “That’s not an area I would consider myself an expert.”
Brown said a lack of regulations in Peru during the 1960s saw the potential use of asbestos-contaminated cement for home construction and used in building materials.
Moline indicated the Lima address given on the company’s website was not proof of what went on at that address (office space or asbestos use), and that the exact nature of the company’s operation was also unknown.
Mark Linder of Lanier Law Firm, Rimondi’s attorney, had Moline recount for the jury the seriousness of mesothelioma and how treatments are at best designed to prolong life. Moline said Rimondi had been given rounds of chemotherapy and medications.
“Does it cure mesothelioma?” Linder asked.
“It does not,” Moline answered.
Linder asked why chemotherapy is used.
“Some patients have had a good response,” Moline said. “It can shrink a tumor and even if it doesn’t, it keeps it from growing. The person feels a little better because it’s not growing.”
Moline said the treatment is designed to buy the patient a few extra months of life. In Rimondi’s case, surgery at this point is not an option because it would not improve his condition.
Under cross-examination, Brown asked Moline if she was telling the jury that had Rimondi not used Johnson & Johnson baby powder, he would not have mesothelioma.
“That’s my opinion,” Moline said.
“But on Monday you did not bring a single epidemiology study that said cosmetic talc powder caused mesothelioma, correct?” Brown asked.
“I did not,” Moline said. “There have been no studies of (cosmetic) talc powder users to date that I am aware of.”
Moline did say there were case reports, including a finding of mesothelioma in a Korean talc miner. In addition to Korea, talc for J&J baby powder was also mined in Italy and Vermont.
“Is it your opinion that not every bottle (Johnson & Johnson) is contaminated?” Brown asked.
“It is my opinion a majority of bottles are contaminated,” Moline said.
Concerning the defendant's questioning suggesting Rimondi’s close proximity to an asbestos factory in Peru caused his disease, plaintiff lawyer Joseph Cotilletta of Lanier Law Firm said there was no evidence Rimondi had ever been in the vicinity of the address listed on the Eternit Co. website.
“That’s why I couldn’t tell whether it (address) was referring to the factory in question or administrative offices,” Moline said.
The trial is taking place a few miles from Johnson & Johnson’s corporate headquarters and is the first talc-mesothelioma trial for the Lanier Law Firm of Houston. The firm is representing Rimondi and won a $4.69 billion verdict against J&J last year in a trial in Missouri.
Rimondi and his wife, Pilar, are suing Johnson & Johnson claiming that asbestos in its baby powder caused him to develop mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer of the linings of the lungs. Almost always fatal within a few years of diagnosis, doctors had warned Rimondi’s family he would likely not survive past this year.
Thousands of cases against Johnson & Johnson alleging injuries from asbestos exposure are pending in courts. In New Jersey, plaintiff verdicts have been high. There have been verdicts of $117 million and $37 million.
Also, a California jury last week hit the company with a $29.4 million verdict in another mesothelioma case. The potential liability has forced J&J's talc supplier Imerys Talc America into bankruptcy.