Closing arguments were being made June 3 in a Johnson & Johnson baby powder and face powder product case where it was alleged the products caused a woman’s mesothelioma.
During the six week trial, attorneys for Patricia Schmitz argued that asbestos in the baby powder caused her pleural mesothelioma. Attorneys for J&J argued the disease was spontaneous and not caused by their products.
The mesothelioma trial in Alameda County Superior Court recently has been streaming live on Courtroom View Network.
Schmitz is 61 and is the mother of two and has grandchildren. She claims she used baby powder for 40 years before she was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018. Doctors say she does not have long to live.
The baby powder mesothelioma trials are one of hundreds against J&J around the US. Most were filed by women who claimed the product caused their ovarian cancer. But some lawsuits now mention mesothelioma, which is a much rarer disease.
Many of the lawsuits have been based in California. But this trial is only the second one in this part of California. Most of the cancer trials have been held in the LA region.
Plaintiff’s Attorney Says Burden of Proof Has Been Met
The woman’s attorney, Joseph Satterley, said to the jury he thinks the burden of proof accusing J&J in purposeful misrepresentation and endangering consumers has been met. He claims the case is about trust and values.
Satterly said he thinks the evidence shows that Schmitz was exposed to fibers of asbestos from J&J baby powder. He said to keep selling the product for years knowing there is a risk of cancer is unreasonable. He added that tests of the baby powder show positive signs for asbestos and doctors’ testimony and company documents in the lawsuit show negligence by J&J.
Also, he said the company should be held liable for concealment and product liability. He asked during the trial if the risk potential was known or knowable? No one in the general public knew there could be asbestos in the talcum powder. There were only a few scientists who knew. But did the public know that it could lead to harm? Schmitz had no idea.
The attorney continued there was no warning label on the bottles of baby powder. He claimed this is intentional misrepresentation. The baby powder bottles said the product was the ‘purest protection.’ The product is not actually pure and this has been known for many years.
Satterly noted that testing by expert witnesses for the plaintiff showed there is asbestos in some samples of the powder. These include traces of tremolite and chrysotile asbestos. Satterly said the J&J marketing department knew this was an issue. They informed doctors in the 1970s there was no asbestos in the baby powder; they wanted to build the franchise and sell more product.
He said in the lengthy trial that fibers of asbestos could easily be inhaled. Puffs of dust come from the bottle when it is squeezed and they used it in their product marketing constantly as pure i the 1970s. But they were told in a company memo in 1974 that the product should not be marketed as pure because it is intentional misrepresentation.
He told the jury his client should be awarded millions of dollars for the pain and suffering of her mesothelioma. She also lives with the pain of knowing her life is being cut short. The pain and suffering of mesothelioma is awful because it makes it so difficult to breathe.
J&J Attorney Says Document Information Was Cherry Picked
Alex Calfo, a lawyer for J&J, argued the attorneys for the plaintiff were cherry picking information from the memos. Calfo noted the company had done much testing of its baby powder products, and had used outside testing labs for decades, with no asbestos found.
He added there has been no epidemiological study ever conducted that shows cosmetic baby powder leads to mesothelioma. There are no peer-reviewed studies. None of the woman’s doctors said the powder caused her mesothelioma, either. Even today, FDA does not mandate warning labels on baby powder products.
Calfo said the testimony of the plaintiff’s experts was dishonest and that one of the scientists had never tested talcum powder until two years ago when he was first hired as an expert by plaintiff lawyers. He also said if J&J was conspiring to hide asbestos in its baby powder products, there must have been many other conspirators in the scheme, such as physicians, government officials and various J&J employees.
Further, the attorney for the defense said there are no published studies that say talc exposure leads to mesothelioma. No plaintiff witness has said that J&J baby powder contained asbestos until they were hired by lawyers for the plaintiff.
Calfo argued that Schmitz had shown no markers of asbestos exposure, such as developing pleural plaques. In females, 80% to 90% of mesothelioma cases are not caused by asbestos exposure and J&J’s products have never been shown to be contaminated with the dangerous mineral.
Closing Arguments Heard in Schmitz Mesothelioma Trial. (2019). Retrieved from https://norcalrecord.com/stories/512602176-closing-arguments-heard-in-schmitz-mesothelioma-trial-j-j-lawyers-argue-disease-was-spontaneous