A St. Louis jury held that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) talc products contained asbestos and caused cancer in 22 women, slamming the multinational health products company with a landmark $4.69 billion in the largest talcum powder verdict so far.
The loss is J&J’s worst to date over allegations that its line of talcum powder products causes cancer. Previous juries awarded hundreds of millions to women diagnosed with ovarian cancer after many years of using J&J baby powder for feminine hygiene. In those cases, the plaintiffs alleged that the talc mineral itself caused them to develop cancer.
A smaller number of talcum powder lawsuits allege talc contaminated with asbestos-caused plaintiffs to develop mesothelioma, a cancer of the tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs.
The 22 cases that went to trial in St. Louis are essentially a hybrid of both types of talc cases in that they allege asbestos-contaminated talcum powder caused the plaintiffs to develop ovarian cancer.
J&J Calls Landmark Baby Powder Verdict ‘Fundamentally Unfair’
While previous talcum powder lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar verdicts, yesterday’s was the first to render punitive damages against J&J worth over $4 billion. A verdict worth more than $400 million in California last year was overturned by the trial judge, and challenges to at least five other talc verdicts against J&J are currently pending.
Nevertheless, the announcement of the landmark J&J talc verdict sent shockwaves through the market. J&J’s stock sank 2.4% in Friday’s premarket trading. In a statement, J&J called the verdict “fundamentally unfair” and vowed to appeal the decision.
Jury Sides with Plaintiffs in Lawsuits Against Johnson & Johnson
According to CNBC, the jury deliberated for less than a day after hearing arguments from both sides over the course of five weeks. During the trial, the jury heard from experts who walked them through the science, as well as from J&J employees who vouched for the safety of their products. They also heard from the women themselves and the loved ones of six plaintiffs who died of cancer.
The plaintiffs alleged that J&J knew since at least the 1970s that its talc products contained asbestos but failed to warn consumers and the general public about the risks. Scientists wrote about finding talc particles embedded in cervical and ovarian tumor tissue beginning around 1971.
In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the use of talc in the genital area as a possible human carcinogen. U.S. government agencies have routinely said the talcum powder and ovarian cancer issue warrants further study.
Between 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioned a study that analyzed talc samples, including samples of J&J’s Baby Powder. The study did not find asbestos in any of the talc samples analyzed, according to the agency.
However, the jurors heard arguments from the plaintiffs that the FDA, J&J and other laboratories used flawed testing methods in their analyses that did not allow for the proper detection of asbestos fibers.
The talc mineral is closely linked to asbestos, as both can appear close to one another in the earth. According to the plaintiffs, both can become intermingled during the mining process, which can make it impossible to remove asbestos from the talc, a claim that J&J denies.
The jury also heard from scientists who presented evidence that tissue with the ovarian cancer cells contained talc and asbestos particles.
In the end, the jury sided with the plaintiffs, awarding $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.19 billion in punitive damages. The verdict generally awarded $25 million to each woman suing on her own and awarded women who sued with their spouses $12.5 million to each.