By Tina Bellon
(Reuters) – A Missouri jury on Thursday ordered Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:) to pay $550 million 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 verdict so far only includes compensatory damages, but the jury, which deliberated less than a day, also unanimously decided to award punitive damages. Those will be determined during a second stage of the trial, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network.
The trial in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis was the largest case by number of plaintiffs that J&J has faced to date over allegations its talc-based products cause cancer. The verdict followed more than five weeks of testimony by nearly a dozen experts on both sides.
The women and their families said decades-long use of Baby Powder and other cosmetic talc products caused their diseases. They allege the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos since at least the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks.
J&J denies both that its talc products cause cancer and that they ever contained asbestos. It says decades of studies show its talc to be safe.
“While we are disappointed with this decision, the jury has further deliberations to conduct in this trial and we will reserve additional comment until the case is fully completed,” J&J said in a statement.
Mark Lanier, the lawyer for the women, in a statement following the verdict called on J&J to pull its talc products from the market “before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease.”
“If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning,” Lanier said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has commissioned a study of various talc samples from 2009 to 2010, including of J&J’s Baby Powder. No asbestos was found in any of the talc samples, the agency said.
But Lanier during the trial told jurors that the agency and other laboratories and J&J have used flawed testing methods that did not allow for the proper detection of asbestos fibers.
Talc, the world’s softest rock, is a mineral closely linked to asbestos and the two substances can appear in close proximity in the earth.
Plaintiffs claim the two can become intermingled in the mining process, making it impossible to remove the carcinogenic substance. J&J denies those allegations, saying rigorous testing and purification processes ensure its talc is clean.
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