Latest Johnson & Johnson talc trial starts in CaliforniaJanuary 8, 2019
Johnson & Johnson baby powder.Credit:AP
A lawyer for J&J will make his opening remarks on Tuesday.
"Our talc is safe and does not contain asbestos. For decades, Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder has repeatedly been tested and been found not to contain asbestos," the company said in response to a request for comment on Monday.
J&J and Imerys have argued in court that decades of studies have shown their products to be safe and asbestos-free.
Leavitt's is the first talc case to go to trial since Reuters on December 14 published a special report detailing internal J&J documents showing talc in the company's raw and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos from the 1970s into the early 2000s.
The report prompted a stock sell-off on fears of J&J's liability. Shares on Monday closed at $127.01, 14 per cent below their Dec. 13 value.
While earlier talc lawsuits alleged talc itself causes ovarian cancer, plaintiffs' lawyers have more recently focused on arguing that asbestos contamination in talc caused mesothelioma, a form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
Leavitt's case is being tried by the same team of lawyers, including Satterley, who in April 2018 won a $US117 million award by a New Jersey jury for a man who blamed his mesothelioma on J&J's cosmetic talc. That verdict is under appeal.
In 11 cases so far alleging asbestos contamination in talc, three resulted in wins for plaintiffs, awarding damages as high as $4.69 billion in a July 2018 multi-plaintiff ovarian cancer verdict. J&J won three other cases and another five ended in hung juries. J&J has appealed all of the plaintiff verdicts, and the company said it is confident the verdicts would be overturned on appeal.
Leavitt was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2017.
She was born in the Philippines and claims she was exposed to J&J cosmetic talc that originated from South Korea mines during the first two years of her life before her parents moved back to the United States in 1968, Satterley said on Monday. He said testing of Asian talc samples from the 1960s and 1970s by his own expert would show Korean-mined talc tested positive for asbestos fibers, as has talc from US sources.
J&J in court filings in the Leavitt case said that fibres found in the Korean talc or any of its other cosmetic talc could not be classified as asbestos and referred to them as non-asbestos forms that its experts say are harmless.
Geologically, some asbestos can occur as "non-asbestiform" rocks. Both forms often occur together and in talc deposits.
The company in its Monday statement did not specifically address the allegations surrounding the South Korean mine.
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