A California Appellate Court will not overturn a $12 million verdict won in a talcum powder asbestos claim. The plaintiff alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Colgate’s Cashmere Bouquet gave her mesothelioma. J&J and Colgate requested an appeals court dismiss expert testimony that was pivotal to securing the substantial verdict. However, the court rejected the defendants’ arguments on December 23, 2022.
Women Originally Awarded $12 Million in Talcum Powder Lawsuit
Plaintiff Patricia Schmitz claimed she used Johnson & Johnson and Colgate talcum powder cosmetics from 11 years old until her late forties. She also used Avon’s Night Magic, although Avon was not a defendant in this trial. Schmitz argued the talc-based products contained asbestos, which led her to develop mesothelioma. Studies suggest that breathing in asbestos fibers may cause the rare and aggressive form of cancer. Schmitz testified that she used these products for most of her life and was eventually diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018.
In June 2019, a California jury awarded Schmitz $12 million in compensatory damages against J&J and Colgate. Collage and J&J were each deemed 40% responsible, while the jury assigned Avon 20% responsibility.
Sadly, Schmitz passed away shortly after her verdict in July 2019.
J&J Challenged Plaintiff Expert Testimony
Johnson & Johnson attempted to appeal the talcum powder lawsuit verdict, arguing there was no scientific evidence to support Schmitz’s claim. The company asserted that the trial judge should have excluded testimony from plaintiff experts Dr. Egilman and William Longo. Dr. Egilman has been crucial in women diagnosed with mesothelioma filing talc/asbestos lawsuits since these patients sometimes lack the workplace exposure argument. Furthermore, Longo testified that his laboratory could identify asbestos fibers in decades-old cosmetic products.
J&J argued that Longo is testing unreliably sourced samples and misidentifying talc fibers as asbestos. The company also said that even if Longo was correct, the amount of asbestos identified was no more than what people are normally exposed to daily. Finally, J&J questioned the legitimacy of Egilman’s claim that fibrous particles resembling asbestos in talc cause cancer.
Court Will Not Disturb $12 Million Verdict
The First Appellate District Court rebuffed the defense’s arguments. Egilman used publications from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to support his testimony. Therefore, the court defended Egilman’s statement to jurors that the human body cannot differentiate between talc and asbestos fibers.
Additionally, the court upheld the validity of Longo’s testing of vintage bottles of J&J and Colgate products to identify asbestos fibers. J&J posited that these bottles from eBay and other sources could have been tampered with and contaminated with asbestos fibers. The court preserved Dr. Egilman and Longo’s estimation of how much asbestos Schmitz inhaled during her life since their reasonings were based on historical documents talcum powder lawyers use to show that asbestos was in cosmetic talc.