ALAMEDA – In a trial accusing Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive of causing Patricia Schmitz’s mesothelioma, a New Orleans-based pulmonologist on Monday said the woman’s disease was spontaneous and not a result of using baby powder.
“Do you have an opinion what caused her (Schmitz’s) disease?” asked Pete Mularczyk the attorney for Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive.
“It’s a spontaneous mesothelioma, a series of genetic mutations without an external cause,” responded Dr. David Weill.
Weill appeared as an expert witness called by defense attorneys.
The trial in the Alameda County Superior Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Schmitz is suing Johnson & Johnson for its baby powder and Colgate-Palmolive for an adult face powder product called Cashmere Bouquet claiming use of the products over a 40-year period caused her to develop mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lungs.
The 61-year old woman, a mother of two with grandchildren and former school teacher, has been given little chance to survive by doctors.
Weill said he did not think there was a causal association between the use of talc powder and mesothelioma. He said it remains unclear where the disease in Schmitz first originated, in the pericardium the membranes enclosing the heart, or the pleura, the membranes lining the lungs.
“She (Schmitz) had a pericardial mass and pleural fluid both at the same time,” Weill said. “Which developed first I can’t definitely say.”
A report made by a radiologist stated the condition was a pericardial tumor that had metastasized into the left pleural space.
A pericardial point of origin would less likely point to asbestos exposure than initial development in the pleural cavity.
Weill said Schmitz had not demonstrated “markers” of asbestos exposure like the development of pleural plaques, fibrous thickening on the linings of the lungs.
“Nothing is 100 percent but with asbestos exposure you’re more likely to have pleural plaques,” Weill noted.
An X-ray of Schmitz’s chest taken in June 2018 exhibited for the jury showed an irregular dense mass of tissue. Weill explained its nature.
“That is a pericardial mass that is a clear abnormality,” he said. “There are two abnormalities. This is a tumor in a part of the pericardium, the lining of the heart and that’s a large tumor. Second there is a pleural fluid effusion.”
Weill said he billed $600 per hour to testify and had billed a total approximate $20,000 on the case so far.
Under cross examination Joseph Satterley, Schmitz’s attorney, said Weill had been hired by the talc powder companies to testify that such a mesothelioma is spontaneous.
“In some instances,” Weill agreed.
Satterley said in a deposition taken last April Weill had appeared uncertain about the diagnosis of Schmitz’s disease.
“You told folks you didn’t know what the diagnosis was,” Satterley said.
“At the time of the deposition (April) it was unclear,” Weill corrected.
Doctors concluded the woman had malignant pleural mesothelioma.
“Of your time, 100 percent (testimony) has been at the request of defendants,” Satterley said.
“That’s right,” Weill said.
Weill agreed he had also testified at the request of defendants in industrial talc cases.
Satterley said a Connecticut chemical company R.T. Vanderbilt owned talc mines in New York State.
“That’s right,” Weill agreed.
“They had over 15 (talc) miners with mesothelioma,” Satterley said.
“It might or might not be (mesothelioma),” Weill said.
“You’ve made a million dollars in litigation,” Satterley said.
“Yes,” Weill answered.
Satterley asked Weill if non-asbestiform minerals could be broken down by the human body.
"Yes, okay," Weill said.
Cleavage fragments, crushed minerals that in shape and size can look like asbestos fibers, defense attorneys have maintained are harmless. Plaintiff attorneys have said they can be toxic.
"Are you of the opinion that because of surface defects (of cleavage fragments), the body's defense mechanisms can break them down?" Satterley asked.
"One of the reasons, yes," Weill agreed.
"You have never studied on the surface defects of cleavage fragments," Satterley said.
"The answer is no," Weill said.
"You've never done research on how the human body expels (cleavage fragments)."
"I have not done bench research on cleavage fragments," Weill said.
Weill added that because of defects in cleavage fragments, the body's defense mechanisms are able to get inside and break down the fragments, something that can't be accomplished with asbestos fibers.
"Have you ever looked at cleavage fragments under a microscope?" Satterley asked.
"No," Weill answered.