Johnson & Johnson jury awards US$4.14b punitive damages over talc cancer

Johnson & Johnson jury awards US$4.14b punitive damages over talc cancer

Johnson & Johnson jury awards US$4.14b punitive damages over talc cancer

A Missouri jury on Thursday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $4.69 billion to 22 women who alleged the company's talc-based products, including its baby powder, contain asbestos and caused them to develop ovarian cancer.

The jury announced the $4.14 billion award in punitive damages shortly after awarding $550 million in compensatory damages after a six-week trial in St. Louis Circuit Court. Divan writes that despite the eye-catching headlines, in the majority of the talc lawsuits (more than 9,000 as of the first quarter), which have produced higher damage awards, the company has been able to overturn most of the unfavorable rulings.

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that it is "deeply disappointed in the verdict".

"Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed", J&J added, saying that it would pursue all available appellate remedies.

During closing arguments, Johnson & Johnson lawyer Peter Bicks said the company for years has exceeded industry standards in testing talcum powder for asbestos and cited several scientific studies and conclusions by U.S. government agencies that he said found the company's products didn't contain asbestos and were safe.

During the St. Louis trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs presented evidence that J&J's talc products have contained asbestos for decades, according to a release from the Lanier Law Firm.

But Lanier argued J&J traded on the reputation of its baby powder as a source of comfort, all while rigging tests over decades to hide cancer-causing asbestos the company knew was in its talc. The other two are on appeal, facing the same challenges from J&J.


She said the case was overwhelmed with "prejudice" because each plaintiff was awarded the same $25 million "irrespective of their individual facts", according to Bloomberg. "With all of this independent testing, there's some massive conspiracy going on at Johnson & Johnson to expose babies to asbestos?" However asbestos, which can contaminate talc if not carefully extracted or purified, is a carcinogen. It found no asbestos in any of them.

While the more than US$4 billion punitive-damage verdict will grab the headlines, the jury's decision that asbestos in J&J's Baby Powder caused the women's ovarian cancer may be a bigger, long-term concern, said Jean Eggen, a Widener University law professor who teaches about mass-tort cases.

But Lanier argued that it was the agencies and labs cited by J&J that used flawed testing methods that failed to detect asbestos.

The landmark trial is the first of its kind concerning claims that asbestos in J&J's talc causes ovarian cancer. Others are from Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

As The Washington Post's Laurie McGinley reported, there is a debate about whether talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer, with many experts, including government researchers, contending the evidence is thin.

Punitive damages are additional punishments levied against a defendant to prevent similar actions in the future.

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