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Johnson & Johnson settles asbestos-talc cancer claim in mid-trial

Nearly 17,000 lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson accusing the company of selling talcum powder products that it knew were laced with asbestos. Asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer, and other lung cancers. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.

In a recent case in California, a woman claimed her mesothelioma was caused by her routine use of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder for decades. She also sued a unit of Rio Tinto Minerals, a London-based mining company that she says provided the talc for the baby powder. She claims that company, along with J&J, knew that the talc was tainted by asbestos.

Now, both J&J and Rio Tinto have settled the lawsuit for more than $2 million. The trial had gone on for more than two weeks before the jury was told that the case had been settled. The terms of the settlement were not made public.

Does J&J admit its Baby Powder may contain asbestos?

No. After the settlement, a J&J spokesperson emailed a statement to the press denying any admission of liability or change in the company's position.

"In litigation of every nature there are one-off situations where settlement is a reasonable alternative," reads the statement. "The decision to resolve any particular case in no way changes our overall position that our talc is safe, is asbestos free and does not cause cancer."

Interestingly, however, J&J has been having some success defending other asbestos-talc cases. According to Bloomberg, the company won eight trials last year while only losing five. Other cases have been settled before trial, although it is unusual to settle one in the midst of a trial.

The plaintiff, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August 2018, has been receiving treatment, but mesothelioma is harder to treat than other forms of lung cancer. She is estimated to have less than two years to live.

Plaintiffs in many of these talc cases claim, and a Reuters investigation indicates, that J&J learned decades ago that at least some of its talc-based products were tainted with asbestos and took steps to cover it up. J&J, however, denies this.

When companies learn that their products can cause harm when used as expected, they have a duty to warn consumers of the risks. If they fail or refuse to issue an appropriate warning, they may be held liable for any injuries or deaths under the law of product liability.

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