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There may be asbestos in a common household item: baby powder.

A recent trial in New Jersey is making national headlines. The plaintiff, 46-year-old Stephen Lanzo, has accused the Johnson & Johnson Company of selling talcum-based products which they knew contained asbestos. He claims that years of exposure to Johnson & Johnson baby powder has caused his mesothelioma—a fatal form of cancer on the lining of the lungs.

Johnson & Johnson has rejected the allegations, contending that Lanzo’s cancer was the result of childhood exposure to asbestos. The substance was commonly used as a fireproofing material in home and commercial construction prior to 1979, when the toxicity of asbestos was first discovered.

Lanzo’s attorney’s held that “talc and asbestos occur naturally together” and that Johnson & Johnson was aware of this link in the 1970s. At that time, the attorneys claim, the company tried and failed to remove asbestos from their talcum-based products. It continued to sell them and failed to warn about any potential health-related consequences.

The formula for product liability

In a case in which a plaintiff claims to have suffered personal injury as a result of a defective product, it is generally incumbent upon the plaintiff to demonstrate that one of the following is true:

  • There is something inherently unsafe about the product itself.
  • Something about the way in which the product was manufactured made it dangerous.
  • The marketing of the product failed to provide the necessary warnings or safety instructions.

In the case in question, the plaintiff holds that talcum-based products are naturally unsafe and that the Johnson & Johnson failed to warn about this danger. Baby powder can be found in most households across the country. If Lanzo is successful, the case could open the door for a deluge of similar lawsuits.

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