A jury in St. Louis found Thursday that
should pay $4.69 billion in damages to 22 women and their families who blamed ovarian-cancer cases on asbestos in the company’s iconic baby powder, the biggest single verdict in such cases so far.
The jury awarded $550 million and later added $4.14 billion in punitive damages against the company for allegedly failing to warn that its talcum powder raised the risk of ovarian cancer.
J&J said it was “deeply disappointed” with the verdict, which the company said was the product of a “fundamentally unfair process” and plans to appeal.
Punitive damages, especially those many times higher than the compensatory damages, are often reduced by the trial judge or reversed on appeal
J&J has succeeded in getting many jury verdicts overturned, sometimes on technical jurisdictional grounds. Last month, a Missouri appeals court threw out a $55 million verdict against J&J, saying the South Dakota plaintiff lacked jurisdiction.
The compensatory damages awarded by the jury in Missouri state trial court Thursday surpassed the $417 million given by jurors in Los Angeles last year, though that trial involved just a single plaintiff. A judge later overturned that verdict.
The latest verdict is the first in a string of personal-injury trials testing some plaintiffs’ theory that asbestos in J&J’s signature talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued during the six-week trial that asbestos fibers mixed with the talc used to make Johnson’s Baby Powder entered the bodies of women who used the product every day for decades for feminine hygiene. Six of the women plaintiffs had died.
“If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning,”
lead counsel for the women and their families, said in a statement.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have argued that talc causes mesothelioma in other cases, including a California lawsuit in which a jury awarded a woman $25.75 million and a South Carolina case that ended in a hung jury.
The science on a link between talcum powder and cancer is uncertain. The American Cancer Society says some studies looking at whether the powder can cause cancer in the ovaries have found a small uptick in risk, while others didn’t find any increase.
J&J officials say repeat reviews of the science failed to turn up evidence supporting a link and the company didn’t need to add a warning about a higher cancer risk.
The company has decided to fight the lawsuits case-by-case, even though it has been trying to move past recalls, government investigations and various lawsuits over various products. J&J is now preparing to launch a revamped lineup of Johnson’s Baby products, including the powder.
Appeared in the July 13, 2018, print edition as ‘J&J Hit by $4.7 Billion Verdict in Powder Case.’