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Attorneys openly wept in a courtroom earlier this month after jurors handed down an $80 million award in punitive damages for their client. The plaintiff, a 46-year-old investment banker, says that he developed lung cancer as the result of asbestos in his talcum powder. He sued the makers of the powder, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and the company that mined the talc -- Imerys SA. This brings the plaintiff's total award to $117 million.

The plaintiff's attorneys claimed that J&J had been aware for over 40 years that trace amounts of asbestos were present in their talcum powders, including their iconic baby powder and their Shower-to-Shower brand. They produced a 1974 memo in which scientists at the company warned that talc that contained asbestos created "a severe health hazard." However, the attorneys argued, the company never informed the public.

The suit also claimed that Imerys didn't take sufficient measures to ensure that their talc contained no asbestos. Asbestos has been shown to cause various types of cancer, including mesothelioma, which is often fatal.

A spokesperson for J&J announced that the company will appeal the decision. The company has claimed that its products are tested for asbestos and determined to be free of the carcinogen. J&J has thus far faced about 6,600 lawsuits over its baby powder from women to claim that it caused ovarian cancer. The victory for this plaintiff could open the company to many more lawsuits, according to one law professor.

Even though asbestos is less prevalent than it used to be, there are still ways that people can be exposed to it. As noted, it can cause potentially-fatal forms of cancer like mesothelioma and lung cancer. People who believe that their cancer, or that of a loved one, may have been caused by exposure to asbestos without their knowledge should explore their legal options.

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