Court Hears Motions to Overturn Verdict in $117 Million New Jersey Talc Case

NEW JERSEY — In April of this year, a New Jersey jury awarded $37 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages to plaintiff Stephen Lanzo, who alleged that he developed mesothelioma from years of use of defendants’ talcum powder, which the plaintiff claimed was contaminated with asbestos. On Wednesday, May 23, 2018, the court heard arguments on Imerys Talc America, Inc.’s motions to overturn the verdict. In asking the court to overturn the verdict, Imerys argued the plaintiff had presented no competent evidence at trial regarding the frequency of the plaintiff’s alleged exposure to talc, which forced the jury to speculate regarding potential exposure. They further argued that the court was incorrect in instructing the jury to apply an adverse inference to Imerys regarding the company’s alleged failure to retain talc samples going back to 1979, given that they were disposed of as a matter of course pursuant to routine, historical policies.

Imerys next argued that the value of the compensatory verdict “shocked the conscience,” and demonstrated that the jury was confused about what damages were recoverable, following Lanzo’s counsel’s alleged encouragement to compensate Plaintiff for his future death in closing arguments. Finally, Imerys argued that the court should have instructed the jury on the sophisticated intermediary doctrine, which would hold that Imerys had no duty to warn given the distribution of their product through a sophisticated third party. The court did not rule on the motions, and will hold more hearings on defendants’ post-trial motions in the upcoming weeks.