Johnson & Johnson loses trial over claims linking cancer to asbestos in talc

April 5 (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson suffered its first trial loss in a lawsuit claiming its talc-based products including Johnson's Baby Powder contain cancer-causing asbestos, with a New Jersey jury on Thursday ordering J&J and another company to pay $37 million in damages.

The verdict of liability in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Brunswick came as J&J fights thousands of cases claiming its talc products can also cause ovarian cancer. The jury found J&J and another company liable after more than two months of trial.

The lawsuit was brought by New Jersey resident Stephen Lanzo, who said he developed mesothelioma after inhaling dust that was generated through his regular use of J&J talc powder products since his birth in 1972.

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer closely associated with exposure to asbestos. It affects the delicate tissue that lines body cavities, most often around the lungs, but also in the abdomen and elsewhere.

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Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid brand bandages sit on display in a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Johnson & Johnson is scheduled to release earnings data on Oct. 16.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Johnson's baby shampoo is arranged for a photograph in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, July 2, 2015. Johnson & Johnson is expected to report quarterly earnings on July 14, 2015.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Johnson & Johnson Neosporin brand ointment sits on display in a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Johnson & Johnson is scheduled to release earnings data on Oct. 16.

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Bottles of Johnson's baby conditioner, produced by Johnson & Johnson, sit on display at a Tesco supermarket in London, U.K., on Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Johnson & Johnson, reeling from more than 50 drug and device recalls since the start of 2010, is trying to recapture its younger self by digesting Synthes Inc.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Johnson's brand baby oil bottles move through the production line at the J&J consumer healthcare products plant in Lititz, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Johnson & Johnson, the world's biggest health-care products company, beat expectations in its first-quarter earnings release in April and raised its 2014 forecast by focusing on new drugs and reducing its reliance on medical devices. J&J is expected to release second-quarter earnings figures on July 15.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid brand bandages sit on display in a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Johnson & Johnson is scheduled to release earnings data on Oct. 16.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Johnson & Johnson Neutrogena brand facial soap is arranged for a photograph in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, July 2, 2015. Johnson & Johnson is expected to report quarterly earnings on July 14, 2015.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Listerine brand freshburst mouthwash bottles move through the production line on a conveyor at the J&J consumer healthcare products plant in Lititz, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Johnson & Johnson, the world's biggest health-care products company, beat expectations in its first-quarter earnings release in April and raised its 2014 forecast by focusing on new drugs and reducing its reliance on medical devices. J&J is expected to release second-quarter earnings figures on July 15.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid brand bandages sit on display in a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Johnson & Johnson is scheduled to release earnings data on Oct. 16.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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(Photo by Jb Reed/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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The jury awarded Lanzo $30 million and his wife $7 million in compensatory damages. It found J&J was responsible for 70 percent of the damages and said a unit of France-based Imerys SA, its talc supplier, was responsible for 30 percent.

The jury will return on Tuesday for further proceedings to determine whether to award punitive damages, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network.

J&J denied the allegations and says Johnson's Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer.

J&J in a statement said it was disappointed but would withhold further comment until the trial's completion. Gwen Myers, an Imerys spokeswoman, said Imerys plans to appeal and is confident talc did not cause Lanzo's cancer.

The Lanzos did not respond to requests for comment.

J&J, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, faces talc-related lawsuits by 6,610 plaintiffs nationally, largely based on claims it failed to warn women about the risk of developing ovarian cancer by using its products for feminine hygiene.

In five trials in Missouri involving ovarian cancer lawsuits, juries found J&J liable four times and awarded the plaintiffs a total of $307 million. In California, a jury awarded a now-deceased woman $417 million.

But in October, a Missouri appellate court threw out the first verdict there for $72 million and a California judge tossed the $417 million verdict. J&J is seeking to reverse the other verdicts.

Asbestos claims are a more recent challenge for J&J. It won the only other asbestos-related trial in November when a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ruled in its favor.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Susan Thomas and Leslie Adler)

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