How I Took On Johnson & Johnson In Small Claims Court, And Won

Desitin, the diaper rash treatment, is not a nice-smelling substance. Joyce’s husband, Ben, could tell that much before using it to treat the aftereffects of some severe gastrointestinal distress. What he didn’t realize was that the unholy stench could not be defeated. It soaked through his clothing, and when he tried to launder those clothes, the smell didn’t go away: it spread to those other items as well. Annoyed at having to toss $600 worth of clothing, the couple contacted Johnson & Johnson, seeking compensation and encouraging the company to do more to deter people who do not currently wear disposable diapers from using the product. After some letters and an offer of $75 passed in the mail, they went to small claims court. And won.

My husband, taking medication with unfortunate gastrointestinal side effects, got a jar of Desitin, the maximum-strength paste.

He applied as directed. (On the website, it says to apply in a “super-thick layer” as if you were “frosting a cake.” Cute, no?) He did notice that it was hard to wash off his hands. Really hard. He spent a good 10 minutes scrubbing.

The Desitin soaked through his boxers and his pants. Suddenly, it was everywhere. And the smell? Beyond words.

We did the laundry. Twice, with extra-hot water. But we made the mistake of putting some other clothing in with the Desitin-tainted items. Everything came out indelibly Desitinized. The smell metastasized.

Too late did we see that the internet was full of people warning against that devil’s spawn of a product, Desitin.

They advised using vinegar and Dawn, the dishwashing liquid that saves oil-coated birds. We soaked overnight. We washed again. We resoaked. We rewashed. All to no avail. Other suggested solvents were WD-40 and lighter fluid. Hmmm.

The dry cleaner refused the socks and underwear but took two shirts and two pairs of shorts, all of which came back still smelling.

Johnson & Johnson knows that Desitin will wreck your stuff, because their consumer-care reps are authorized to send a check for up to $75 worth of property damage. Well, our bill for cleaning products and dry cleaning was $135. The replacement value of the clothing was about $600.

Our letters to J&J, with a smelly swatch included, indicated we would prefer to settle between ourselves, without resorting to the courts. They wouldn’t negotiate.

Time: Eight months later. Place: Small claims court. Personae: Me, an arbitrator and a lawyer that J&J hired to fight the claim.

The case hinged on product labeling. The Desitin defense was that “diaper rash” means you must use the product with a diaper, thereby containing its spread. Ridiculous, I said. Does that mean you can’t get athlete’s foot unless you’re an athlete?

Nowhere does the label say you must use Desitin with a diaper, or that it could ruin any and all items it touched.

Gingerly, I presented the evidence, swaddled in three layers of plastic. When I opened the bag, that distinctive Desitin stench belched forth.

The arbitrator, an expert in product-liability law, noted that some cream and lotion labels feature extensive information for use, including warnings that the product might stain fabric.

We won $335. The law mandates depreciated value, not replacement value. On my way back from court, I threw the evidence into the trash. When I got home, I smelled like Desitin.

Like Desitin, and like victory.

How To Take Your Case To Small Claims Court


Edit Your Comment

  1. baineschile says:

    i am sure that he is thrilled…the internet knows that he had diaper rash!

    • Blueskylaw says:

      There are approximately 199,962 people in the USA named Ben, so that
      REALLY narrows it down. We’re on your tail now Ben, better start running.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      Well, yes, if you are going to slap a “super-thick layer” of anything on your adult butt its going to soak through your underwear.

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    Great argument in court. Don’t get mad, just make the high priced lawyer look ridiculous
    with his arguments and his inability to make a retort against the athlete’s foot statement.

  3. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Hopefully J&J will pay the judgement in a timely manner.

  4. Stickdude says:

    Just picturing OP bringing out a huge bag of smelly clothes in front of Judge Judy… :)

  5. BeerMeBeerMan says:

    So I am guessing more warnings are going to be added to the container… when will it end

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Maybe underwear should come with a warning that it wont provide protection from smelly substances.

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        So now I’m laughing and my office mate is looking at me.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Hey, wouldn’t you want to know this??

    • Bladerunner says:

      When the warnings are appropriate to let the average consumer know the details of a product they’re using?

    • dwtomek says:

      I’m not so sure that assuming a product will ruin your clothes and absolutely not wash out is something normal people go around doing. Maybe that is common practice for you, but I think for the rest of us a warning would be appreciated.

      • BeerMeBeerMan says:

        So food should come with this warning? I got paint on my shirt, should that come with a warning too?

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          It does, so yes.

        • Bladerunner says:

          I didn’t realize Desitin was being sold as a permanent staining product, like paint! Silly me. I thought it was being sold as a diaper rash creme, which people might reasonable not assume also had the effect of being permanently staining.

          It’s worth bearing in mind that while paint doesn’t say will stain, it does often warn about fumes. Why? Because you bought paint, not fumes, so you aren’t expected to necessarily know that the fumes are bad.

    • Jawaka says:

      This is why we have “please don’t use in the shower” warnings on hair dryers.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      A warning that using a product as-directed has known-to-the-company unintended side-effects or interactions is pretty basic information that consumers need to know.

  6. marblehead_ma_consumer says:

    1. I use Desitin on my infant daughter… the smell is really not bad. It’s akin to sunscreen.
    2. It is specifically designed to be very hard to remove. Diaper cream that comes of easily wouldn’t be very effective.

    I guess what I’m saying here is that the OP’s husband should have known that it would be difficult or impossible to get out of clothing. Do we need to label red wine or perfume to warn people that stains and odors will be present in clothing for quite a while?

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Do we need to label red wine or perfume to warn people that stains and odors will be present in clothing for quite a while?

      Until they come out with a wine or perfume that is specifically made to be applied to skin in an area that will obviously be covered with some type of clothing…then no.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        It’s a product with a picture of a baby on the container and is intended to treat “diaper rash”. I think it’s reasonable to assume that it’s intended to be used under a diaper. I didn’t see any reference to use as an adult on the webpage –

        We’ve only had to use the product a few times with our kids but never really had any issues. The smell reminds me of sunblock from when I was a kid.

        • Kryndis says:

          I have no idea how bad the smell actually is, but I think it doesn’t really matter.

          Ultimately, even if you accept the “it’s meant to be used with a diaper” defense there’s still the case of reusable cloth diapers. Which means this information ought to be fully disclosed because it’s of interest even in the normal and expected use of the product.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            We used cloth diapers with our first child and never had any problems. We always used liners, as well as waterproof outers.

            We generally used A&D lotion instead of Desitin but even A&D has the same issue, since it’s petroleum jelly based.

    • bmath18 says:

      Awesome argument you should have been the lawyer who represented the J&J since in your rush to point out how dumb the OP is you forget the fact that they won their case.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        Well, since they won, there is no reason for anyone to argue any point anymore. The decision of ONE arbiter rules ALL.

        • bmath18 says:

          which is the main problem with this site now, everyone wants facts they get facts they still argue, whatever the article states the opposite has to be argued even when the facts get in the way, the discussion on here is 90% pointless with everyone trying to either blame the OP or point out grammar issues, the comments on this site are horrendous lately.

  7. birdieblue says:

    What an idiot. How could you possibly imagine that a thick layer (like cake frosting) of any kind of heavy lotion product would not soak through your clothes and probably ruin them?

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      There are people out there that believe a lack of a warning is implicit of an endorsement.

  8. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    To be honest, placing NON-WATER-SOLUABLE products into a washing machine with other non soiled clothes and expecting it to get clean is just a recipe for disaster. If you had used motor oil all over your clothes, would you not expect it to stain everything else in your washer?
    That’s like washing your newly dyed tie-die with your white load.

    Something to be said to people – oil washes oil, water washes water. If you’re covered in greasy stuff that won’t wash off, grab your olive oil. It will come off.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      If only they made some sort of liquid or powder you could add to the plain water in your washing machine that would make it effective at getting the dirt and oil off your clothes.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Yeah, a primary ingredient is petroleum jelly, which is a pain to wash off just about anything.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      The layman doesn’t know this. Legally, the layman isn’t required or assumed to know this.

      You’re starter than the average human. Congradulations. Get over it.

    • Maximus Pectoralis says:

      I am curious if “waterless hand cleaner” like Zep, Gojo or Goop would work? I have had success replacing laundry detergent with such cleaners in the rare instances when I’ve had oil or gasoline get on my clothes.

      When my clothes were sprayed with gas (from cold snowblower engine), washing them transferred the gas smell to the laundry machine! I tried running several empty cycles with various supposed cures (vinegar, bleach, detergent etc.) and nothing worked until I used the hand cleaner, which completely removed the smell on the first try.

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      Thank you! I remembered organic chemistry. Polar dissolves polar, non-polar dissolves non-polar compounds. =I guess you gotta have a really strong soap to be able to emulsify and wash off the Desitin. I wonder if she tried baking soda, or Shout, or Scrubbing Bubbles?

      Pretty interesting experiment there, as long as you can isolate the stench (if I believe the stench is THAT bad) and make sure none sticks on you. :)

  9. Chris W. says:

    Let me be the first to blame the OP-this is for infant diaper rash, not adult -oops-I-crapped-my-pants ass rash and I believe assumes the use of a diaper which contains the spread of it to the applied areas only.

    C’mon, putting any cream-type substance on your butt in a “cake icing” thick layer is going to leak all over whatever clothing you put over it as you get through the day. Am I the only person who thinks this?

    Now I’d agree if it isn’t there already, maybe some more direct warning is needed as to what it does to normal clothing might be warranted here.

    But still, the common sense of putting hugely thick layer of cream and not thinking it’s going to migrate all over and through one’s underwear and work clothing is silly to me.

    • Bladerunner says:

      It wasn’t the migration as much as the permanence.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      A) Diaper rash cream is designed to be put on your butt and then covered with appropriate clothing
      B) The direction specificed a cake frosting-like layer.
      C) These two items would make a layman presume that following A and B would not result in damage to your clothing.

      You might be smarter than a layman. Congratulations. Get over yourself.

    • framitz says:

      Blame the OP all day long, it doesn’t matter.
      They won the case. Good for them.

  10. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I would not have known that, I guess, not having any babies to use it on. If I put it on a baby and he/she rolled off a towel or pad onto a bedspread (if I were changing said baby on the bed), yeah, I’d be pissed if this stuff ruined my bedding. Or the baby’s diaper failed to contain it and it got on my clothes.

    Might be nice if they did put a warning on there saying it could stain/damage fabric.

  11. notserpmh says:

    Just as a side note, 99% of oil soaked birds cleaned with dish soap later die. It is really just PR for the soap companies and to make the oil companies look like they are trying:

    • Barry Bunch O'Krunch says:

      Hey, those odds aren’t bad. Typically you’d expect 100% of birds, oil-soaked or not, to later die.

      • RickN says:

        I expect 100% of everything living to later die.

        • notserpmh says:

          Sorry, for my reading challenged and all too literal consumerists:

          “die anyway as a result of oil exposure, mainly due to kidney and liver damage caused by oil ingestion.”

          In other words, it would be more cost effective and more humane to just euthanize them.

      • The Porkchop Express says:

        does that mean that 1% of those treated birds live forever?

        Thank gods! Now I don’t have to find a vampire

        • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

          Oh, great — so birds also have the “1%”? What has their pecking order come to?

  12. lettucefactory says:

    Desitin was our go-to diaper rash cream for our 2 boys. I’ve spent plenty of time with it, unfortunately. It really and truly does not smell that bad.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I just associate it with “baby smell” or “going to the beach”. If that’s not what you’re going for, I could see it being annoying.

      But pretty much anything that petroleum jelly based is going to be a pain to get out of clothing.

    • Fuzzy_duffel_bag says:

      I thought the same thing. Not much of a smell at all, as I recall. I even used it on some poison ivy on my leg, and didn’t ruin my pants. Or stink. From Desitin.

    • Bunnies Attack! says:

      Actually, they’re referring to the extra strength one. When I visited my parents in Canada, that was all they had and boy… you could smell it across the room, it was that strong. The regular one isn’t too bad though. Its also a very hard thick paste, like you feel like you should use a fingernail to scrape it out.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        I hope you are referring to removing it from the tub, and not anywhere else…

  13. daemonaquila says:

    I have to call this unjustified whining by the consumer. If you have ANY sense whatsover, you don’t use a product that’s extremely greasy and smelly anywhere near nice clothes, etc. Also, anyone who knows anything about doing laundry knows you don’t dry something when there’s still a stain in there – you will set it for life. By the time they were doing the wash again and again and sending it to the dry cleaner, they had made it impossible to ever get it out.

  14. truthandjustice says:

    Did J&J have a presence, or registered agent for service, in the OP’s state? If not, then without nexis, how did the OP’s locale have any jurisdiction?

    • Auron says:

      J&J could have argued for a change of venue/validity of jurisdiction. But they would have had to shown that a) the plaintiff was harmed in a different jurisdiction and/or b) it would’ve been a greater hardship on J&J than the plaintiff to change the venue to one more suitable to J&J’s liking. Although closely related, jurisdiction and venue are separate legal terms.

    • who? says:

      J&J hired the arbitrator and sent a lawyer. I assume they were fine with going to arbitration on this.

  15. PBallRaven says:

    We used that on our kid. Never smelled anything strong as she describes. And I don’t think I could *fit* 600 dollars worth of clothes in our washer. I’d give them the cost of the initial jeans that were ruined, but it’s their own fault for washing other clothes with them.

  16. blueman says:

    People like this give consumers a bad name.

    • who? says:

      For fighting over some ruined clothes? Or for winning?

      • RayanneGraff says:

        For suing a company over some stupid clothes that got ruined due to his own negligence. He puts diaper rash paste on his ass & takes NO precautions to prevent this thick, smelly, greasy substance from getting on his clothes, and then blames the company when his clothes get ruined. He is the very definition of the whiny, entitled customer & part of the reason why there are stupid warning labels on everything nowadays.

  17. longfeltwant says:

    I can see this both ways, but in the end I think I’d lean toward no product liability. Would a reasonable person think that thick goopy paste which is hard to wash off skin, would also be hard to wash out of clothes? I think yes, which means this consumer was unreasonable. But, I don’t think he was completely unreasonable. It seems to me that the bottle could simply say “Warning: may stain clothes! Wash affect garments separately.” In fact that seems like a very reasonable warning indeed, since the company knows that this is a recurring problem.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      It’s intended use is on little baby butts between diaper changes – not big hairy ass adult butts in cotton underwear. Harried parents with squirming/crying babies have been using this product for years with no problems – but give a guy a tube of goop……

  18. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. When I used this on my child, she had a diaper on her butt, and the excess went into the trash with the diaper. Never had an occasion to use it with just underwear. I can totally see where this stuff could ruin clothes.

    As a lady person, if I had a butt rash as an adult and needed this product, I’d wear a couple pairs of old undies, and maybe stick a panty liner between the product and my undies.

  19. ElleAnn says:

    Good to know! We’re using cloth diapers on our infant daughter and had read warnings not to use traditional diaper rash creams such as Desitin. Now I know why. There are creams specifically marketed to be safe for use with cloth diapers (we use California Baby brand).

  20. nellybelly says:

    This seems crazy to me. We use diaper cream all the time with our daughter, who has some skin problems and is prone to rashes. For one, as others mentioned, the smell is not that bad. No worse than sunscreen. Secondly, we’ve never had a problem washing it out of anything. We cloth diaper and it comes off of them just fine. Ditto her clothes, my clothes, changing pad, etc., etc.

    • RayanneGraff says:

      Yeah, I’m calling BS on this guy about the smell. My mom used Desitin on both me & my little sister. I still remember what it smells like & it’s not NEARLY as bad as this guy makes it out to be. It’s kinda fishy smelling, but it’s not some room-clearing stench that makes your eyes water.

  21. DoubleShortMILF says:

    Awesome argument in court. Next time, use Butt Paste. It doesn’t stink.

  22. italianbaby says:

    recently i fractured my femur had surgery and am laid up in a wheelchair practically 24/7.
    i have a nurse who noticed my skin was breaking down and developing a wicked rash that was getting painful. red and sore and a bit painful. ll this from sitting in a wheelchair constantly.
    she ordered me this product: medline remedy calazimw, skin protection paste with zinc oxide.
    “nourishes skin helps treat diaper rash and cracked skin.”
    let me say this it has healed my skin in 2 weeks back to normal.
    smells oranges. go on thick and washes off easily. i know since it got on my underwear. no problem after washing my clothes.
    you can order basically anywhere. amazon has a 4oz. tube for around $7.75. great product reviews too.

  23. RayanneGraff says:

    So basically, you spread a thick layer of diaper rash ointment on your bum, took NO precautions to keep this thick, greasy, smelly substance from getting all over your clothes, then blamed the company for your ruined clothes because they made the product so thick, greasy & smelly to begin with?

    Hmm, ok. This gives me an idea- I’m gonna apply some hair dye, go to sleep with it still in my hair, and then sue Clairol for the cost of my ruined bedclothes. Yes! The directions don’t specifically say NOT to do this, so hello lawsuit!


    Why is consumerist celebrating this moron? Seriously, this guy is the very *definition* of a bad consumer. Completely dismisses all common sense when using a product, then blames the company when something bad happens. Congratulations Mr. Chapped Ass, you’ve shown the world that you do not possess the mental facilities to deduce that a thick, greasy substance will get all over your clothes. Good job. You are the reason why we have labels on hairdryers warning us not to use it in the shower. SMDH

  24. azgirl says:

    We use cloth diapers- and until recently had no idea that these types of products would ruin the diapers.. glad I did a lot of reading before buying butt cream…it is not something one just knows intuitively…

  25. JenK says:

    I don’t know. I think it’s reasonable to expect a product warning for clothing with the product. I’m glad he won. I wouldn’t think that diaper rash cream would be difficult to get out of clothing. When you buy new jeans it says to wash them seperately, why not put it on a tin of diaper rash cream?