May 14, 2018 / 10:30 PM / 13 days ago

J&J defends itself in trial over baby powder asbestos claims

(Reuters) - A trial for a lawsuit alleging that Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder was responsible for the death of a woman due to her exposure to cancer-causing asbestos began in South Carolina on Monday in the latest case against the healthcare conglomerate and a supplier over their talc-based products.

FILE PHOTO: A Johnson & Johnson building is shown in Irvine, California, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

J&J said that its widely-used baby powder never contained asbestos, a known carcinogen linked to mesothelioma.

The case also names as a defendant a local unit of Rite Aid, one of the largest U.S. drugstore chains, which allegedly sold the baby powder used by the woman.

The case marked the first time a drugstore was involved in a talcum powder liability trial and a lawyer for the company, Sarah Johnston, said there was no reason for Rite Aid to be part of the suit.

In opening statements, a lawyer for the family of Bertila Boyd-Bostic, who died of a rare form of cancer in 2017 at the age of 30, told a jury in the Darlington County Court of Common Pleas that J&J had known for decades that its baby powder contained asbestos.

J&J and its supplier, a unit of Imerys SA, deny the allegations, and their lawyers said their talc product did not cause any form of cancer, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network.

The case is one of several in recent months that alleged asbestos in talc products caused mesothelioma..

A New Jersey state court jury in April ordered J&J and Imerys to pay $117 million to a man who alleged he developed mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure from J&J Baby Powder. An appeal is pending.

J&J has also been battling some 6,000 cases claiming its baby powder caused ovarian cancer.

Boyd-Bostic used baby powder nearly all her life, her family’s lawyer, Christopher Swett, said on Monday. In 2016, she was diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma, an extremely rare form of cancer that develops in the lining around the heart.

“J&J’s choices are why we’re here,” Swett said. He accused the company of concealing knowledge of asbestos contamination since the 1970s and choosing not to warn consumers of the risks.

Bruce Bishop, a lawyer for J&J, said there was no evidence in Boyd-Bostic’s medical records that her mesothelioma was in any way related to asbestos exposure.

Michael Brown, another J&J lawyer, said millions of people had used Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder without developing any diseases. “And that’s because it does not contain asbestos,” he said.

Reporting by Tina Bellon

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