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J&J Baby Powder litigation takes new focus with asbestos claims

Reuters  |  NEW YORK 

By Tina Bellon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A $117 million verdict against and a supplier in favor of a man who said his asbestos-related was caused by long-term use of J&J's could open a new front for thousands of cases claiming the widely-used product caused cancer, legal experts and plaintiffs lawyers said.

J&J has been battling some 6,000 cases claiming its and Shower to Shower products cause ovarian The $117 million verdict by a jury last week, however, involved a different form of that is clearly linked to

Plaintiffs lawyers claim that internal J&J documents seen in that trial show that had been contaminated with They now plan to use the documents in upcoming ovarian trials to allege that the contamination also caused that form of

J&J and Imerys America, a unit of Imerys SA, have vowed to appeal the verdict and deny has ever been present in their products or that their can cause any form of

The case of Stephen Lanzo, a resident who claimed he developed after using since his birth in 1972, was the first time a jury saw the internal J&J documents which plaintiffs claim show that J&J knew since the 1970s that the in its was contaminated by during the process.

J&J says the documents present no such evidence, but merely show the company's caution.

Peter Bicks, a leading J&J's defense, said that in the early 1970s, the company was looking at how it could potentially remove from if the two became intermingled in the process. He says no contamination was ever found, citing decades of testing by independent laboratories and scientists.

Bicks called the claims of a link between and "junk science."

Mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of closely associated with exposure to asbestos, affects the delicate tissue that lines body cavities.

While the link between and is sufficiently established, scientists are divided on whether exposure can cause ovarian Some studies have shown an association between the two, while other studies have found no such link.

Elizabeth Burch, holder of the of Law at the University of Georgia, said it remained an open question whether contained and that each case would turn on the facts.

But J&J, which had $76.5 billion in sales in 2017, gives the plaintiffs' bar an enticing new target, said Nathan Schachtman, a at who used to defend cases.

Some 3,000 people are diagnosed with each year, according to the American Society, a number that Howard Erichson, a at who specializes in mass tort litigation, called significant from a legal standpoint.

But the roughly 22,000 women who were diagnosed with ovarian last year, according to the National Institute, provide lawyers with a potentially much larger pool of plaintiffs to tap.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Mark Lanier, one of the lawyers representing consumers, who said plaintiffs would file thousands of additional and ovarian cases.

New Jersey-based J&J in a statement after the Lanzo verdict said plaintiffs' attorneys had shifted their strategy to focus on after a series of losses at trial and in court rulings over previous allegations that the itself causes

Of the six ovarian trials to date, juries found J&J liable five times, but a appellate court threw out the first verdict and a judge tossed another. Appeals of the other cases are pending.

J&J in November also won the first trial over allegations that its contained and caused a woman's Plaintiffs lawyers say the jury in that case did not see the documents presented during the Lanzo trial.

But Erichson said the widespread use of J&J's generally make the company an attractive litigation target.

"is as ubiquitous a product you can think of and there are lots of people who can testify they've been exposed to it," he said.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon; editing by and Leslie Adler)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, April 16 2018. 11:51 IST