Source: Business Insider
A 24-year-old man in California was awarded $18.8 million on Tuesday in his lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, in which he blamed talc in the company's baby powder for giving him cancer.
Valadez alleged that the talc in Johnson & Johnson's baby powder contained asbestos and said his mother used the product on him a lot when he was a child.
But Anthony "Emory" Hernandez Valadez, who has mesothelioma, is unlikely to see the money any time soon due to a bankruptcy court order that's frozen legal proceedings for claims over Johnson & Johnson's talc-based products.
And Valadez's health is quickly failing — the only reason the chief US bankruptcy judge for the District of New Jersey, Michael Kaplan, allowed his case to proceed as an exception.
Valadez alleged that the talc in Johnson & Johnson's baby powder contained asbestos and said his mother used the product on him a lot when he was a child. His condition, mesothelioma, is a rare and aggressive cancer of the tissue surrounding the body's major organs and is often associated with exposure to asbestos.
"This will take his life," his attorney, Joe Satterley, told a jury in June. Satterley added at the time that Valadez's doctors did not expect the 24-year-old to live past December 2022. They now don't think he'll survive the summer.
Valadez accused Johnson & Johnson of hiding the health risks of its baby powder and said his mother would have avoided using the product if she had known about these risks. The California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $18.8 million to Valadez as compensation for medical bills and the pain suffered from his cancer.
Johnson & Johnson, which plans to appeal the verdict, said "erroneous rulings" prevented it from sharing "critical facts" that showed Valadez's cancer was not related to its baby powder.
"Without the benefit of that evidence, the verdict is irreconcilable with the decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming Johnson's Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer," the company's vice president of litigation, Erik Haas, said in a statement.
Valadez joined tens of thousands of plaintiffs who alleged that the talc in Johnson & Johnson's products contained asbestos at times and could have caused cancer.
But these cases are on hold after LTL Management, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, filed for bankruptcy in April. Through the bankruptcy, the firm proposed to settle with more than 38,000 plaintiffs and distribute $8.9 billion among them.
Filed in New Jersey, the order also blocks further litigation and the tidal wave of new cases against the company.
The six-week trial for Valadez's case was the exception and is the first in two years involving these allegations against Johnson & Johnson.
In his statement, Johnson & Johnson's Haas said the jury's award to Valadez would not be paid until after the bankruptcy proceedings.
"We remain focused on all claimants having the opportunity to vote and decide for themselves on our plan to compensate them in a timely and efficient manner," he said.
In response to queries from Insider, lawyers for Valadez wrote in an email that they hope the bankruptcy court will dismiss LTL Management's bankruptcy protection so the $18 million can be awarded to Valadez and his family.
"Emory's wish for the verdict was for Johnson & Johnson and other companies making poisonous products that hurt people to be precluded from doing this in the future. Emory is grateful for and satisfied with the jury's verdict," said the email.
Some plaintiffs are seeking to dismiss LTL Management's bankruptcy filing, saying it allowed Johnson & Johnson to put a hard limit on payouts if it lost the lawsuits.
Johnson & Johnson stopped selling talc-based baby powder in North America in 2020, offering a cornstarch-based version instead.
Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside regular business hours.