Plaintiffs in a New Jersey talc powder lawsuit who were previously awarded $37 million in compensatory damages are now seeking punitive damages from a new jury. After deciding in favor of the plaintiffs, who claim that talcum powder caused their injuries, new jurors must determine whether there is significant evidence to bring punitive damages against talc powder manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued during Tuesday’s punitive damages trial that J&J was aware that their product contained asbestos but continued to sell it to consumers without warning. They directed jurors to J&J internal memos and employee testimony that indicated that J&J was aware of asbestos in their talc products and even coached employees to present the product to consumers as asbestos-free.
Acting as the key witness in Tuesday’s hearing, a terminally ill plaintiff gave his account to the jury.
David Etheridge, age 60, took to the stand to tell of his struggles living with terminal mesothelioma, which he claims he developed as a result of asbestos-containing talc powder. The Virginia Presbyterian minister explained that he had to retire early from his career once his illness became too debilitating for him to preach.
Etheridge developed mesothelioma three years ago, while on vacation with family. He has undergone numerous treatments, including an 11-hour operation that left him hospitalized for 22 days.
He has since undergone chemotherapy. However, his mesothelioma has become untreatable. According to Etheridge, all current treatments are an effort to make him more comfortable and extend his life.
Ethridge says he was first exposed to asbestos-tainted talc powder as a baby.
J&J representatives argued that the company met and even exceeded federal regulatory standards regarding asbestos testing in its products. The defendant’s attorneys also argued that two third-party testing agencies had both tested J&J talc products for asbestos, with both tests coming out negative for the presence of asbestos. The defendants also claimed that they had previously flagged products believed to contain asbestos to federal agencies, but testing indicated that it was only an asbestos-like product.
Additional co-plaintiffs – D’Angela McNeill-George, Douglas Barden, and the estate of Will Ronning – all claim to have been exposed to asbestos in J&J baby powder and are seeking punitive damages for their injuries.