Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

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

Via Alexey Novikov Via Alexey Novikov
Melissa Porter | 13 July, 2018, 19:40

A St. Louis jury on Thursday said Johnson & Johnson must pay $4.69 billion to 22 women who said asbestos in the company's talcum powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer.

The jury later added $4.1 billion (around Rs 28,100 crore) in punitive damages.

The women claimed that the company failed to warn them about the traces of the chemical and associated cancer risks in using Johnson's Baby Powder.

"For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products", said Mark Lanier, lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs.

During Wednesday's closings of the trial's first phase, plaintiffs' attorney Mark Lanier did not request a specific damage award but urged jurors to write their figures "in big letters". The jurors then deliberated over how much to award in punishment damages.

Johnson & Johnson called the verdict "the product of a fundamentally unfair process" that combined 22 women with few connections to Missouri into a single group of plaintiffs in St Louis. Johnson & Johnson sought to protect the image of Baby Powder as "their sacred cow", he said. However, the company said it will be appealing the result.

The company denied that its products ever contained asbestos and insisted that they do not cause cancer.

And according to the National Cancer Institute, claims that talc used for feminine hygiene purposes can be absorbed by the reproductive system and cause inflammation in the ovaries are not supported by "the weight of evidence".

A separate but related set of lawsuits suggest Johnson & Johnson's powder is contaminated with asbestos.

A previous ruling in 2017 by a California jury awarded $417m but that was later overturned on appeal. "We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer". The company agreed to pay at least US$5-million to settle the claims, according to two persons familiar with the matter.

The company now faces about 9,000 talc-cancer cases in state and federal court, according to published reports, with the bulk of state court cases in Missouri, New Jersey, and California, according to J&J's May 2018 quarterly report.

It is highly unlikely the plaintiffs will keep an amount anywhere close to judgment award. However, there are experts who are still concerned about the safety of talc today, despite new asbestos-free formulas.

Johnson & Johnson has faced multiple trials in St. Louis over ovarian-cancer claims, losing four of the first five to go to trial. Several other cases have involved sizeable damages, including a $417 million verdict reached by jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court a year ago.