Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay US$4.7 billion in talc cancer case

Henrietta Brewer
July 13, 2018

A jury in Missouri ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.69 billion in damages to 22 women who claim the company's talcum powder products caused ovarian cancer.

The jury award includes $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages.

The company is being sued by more than 9,000 women who claim the powder caused their ovarian cancer.

The women and their families said decades-long use of Baby Powder and other cosmetic talc products caused their diseases.

Around 7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United Kingdom each year, with half (53%) of cases diagnosed in women aged 65 and over.

Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson had covered up evidence of asbestos in its products for more than 40 years.

The microscopic asbestos fibers enter the body when talcum powder is inhaled or applied to the genital area, medical experts said during the trial. Many talc mines extracted material highly contaminated with tremolite asbestos fibres, which most likely went into products made from talc.

The plaintiff's lawyer stated that J&J should pull their baby powder from the shelves "before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a awful disease".

J&J denied any contamination with asbestos or any rigged testing.

J&J says it will appeal the latest verdict, which it argues is "the product of a fundamentally unfair process".

Rebecca Rennison, director of public affairs and services, said: "Various studies have shown a link between using talcum powder between the legs and ovarian cancer".

J&J "will appeal till the cows come home, or until all the plaintiffs die", plaintiffs' lawyer Mark Lanier said in an interview Thursday.

The company's products don't contain asbestos and don't cause ovarian cancer, she said.

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.

After a brief punitive phase Thursday afternoon, jurors deliberated for about 30 minutes before handing down their $4.14 billion punitive award.

The company claims decades of studies, including one by the US Food and Drug Administration, found its talc-based products, including J&J's Baby Powder, to be safe.

The women who sued, whose jobs range from school bus driver to executive director of a job-retraining program, come from states including Pennsylvania, California, Arizona and NY.

The trial is one of many proceedings CVN has recorded in Missouri, California, and SC state courts as part of its extensive talc litigation coverage. Jurors in California previously ordered the company to pay $417 million, but J&J successfully appealed that decision.

Despite inconclusive evidence, there have been concerns that using talcum powder on the genitals can lead to ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson said that it is deeply disappointed with the verdict and has said that they will challenge it.

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