An Illinois court has ordered pharmaceutical and cosmetic giant Johnson & Johnson and its former Kenvue Inc. spinoff to pay $45 million to the family of Theresa Garcia after a jury determined the companies’ talcum-based baby powders led to Garcia’s fatal cancer. 

The verdict, delivered by a Cook County jury, marks the first against Kenvue in the prolonged legal battle surrounding Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder products. Kenvue was formerly a division of Johnson & Johnson before becoming an independent company in August 2023, inheriting its former parent company’s talc-related liabilities and legal challenges.

Ben Adams, one attorney representing Garcia’s family, claimed Johnson & Johnson created Kenvue in a “corporate shell game” to delay the trial.

“Ms. Garcia’s case was delayed by several years when Johnson & Johnson filed two bad faith bankruptcies in an attempt to avoid the decades of liability it now faces,” Adams said in a statement.

In response to the verdict, Erik Haas, J&J’s Worldwide vice president of litigation, promised the company would “immediately appeal,” expressing confidence in prevailing against what he described as “aberrant adverse verdicts” lacking basis in law or science. Haas claimed that decades of independent scientific evaluations showed Johnson & Johnson’s talc products were safe.

Jury Linked Death to Asbestos in Talc

Garcia, a mother of six and grandmother, passed away in 2020 from mesothelioma, a cancer typically associated with asbestos exposure. 

During the trial, attorneys for Theresa Garcia’s family presented a narrative detailing her lifelong use of Johnson’s Baby Powder and its other talcum powder products. 

Expert witnesses testified that laboratory testing had revealed the presence of asbestos fibers in some samples of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, raising serious concerns about the product’s safety. Attorneys claimed that the daily use and inhalation of talc particles over Garcia’s lifetime had led to her mesothelioma diagnosis.

They argued that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries had knowingly sold talc-containing products despite being aware of potential asbestos exposure through talc.

The jury attributed 70% of the responsibility for Garcia’s death to Kenvue. It attributed the remaining 30% to Johnson & Johnson and

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J&J’s Legal Storm: 53,000 Lawsuits With Mixed Verdicts

The ruling comes amidst mounting legal challenges for Johnson & Johnson. As of April 2024, the company faced 53,939 talcum powder lawsuits in multidistrict litigation (MDL) in New Jersey federal court. The lawsuits claim Johnson & Johnson’s talc products have caused ovarian cancer, mesothelioma and other serious medical conditions.

The lawsuits have yielded mixed results. Just a day before the Chicago verdict, a Florida jury dismissed similar cancer claims against Johnson & Johnson. In March, a Florida lawsuit ended in a mistrial when a jury failed to reach an agreement on whether the company’s talcum powder products caused the plaintiff’s cancer. Johnson & Johnson also recently settled other talc lawsuits in which the plaintiffs claim the powders caused their mesothelioma. 

Johnson & Johnson has consistently denied the allegations of asbestos exposure and maintained that its talc products are safe and do not cause cancer. However, the company announced plans to phase out talc-based products globally by December 2023, transitioning to cornstarch-based formulas in response to declining sales and ongoing legal battles.