World healthcare giant Johnson and Johnson was dealt a massive blow on Thursday, July 12, 2018, when a St. Louis jury ordered the company to pay 22 women nearly $4.7 billion in compensation, the Washington Post reports.
A Turning Point In The J&J Talcum Powder Litigation
The verdict, rendered after 7 hours of jury deliberation, marks the first talcum powder-ovarian cancer lawsuit to include allegations about the asbestos content of Johnson and Johnson’s talcum powder products, Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. A set of claims against Imerys SA, Johnson and Johnson’s main talc supplier, were settled prior to trial.
Talc-Asbestos Theory Could Change Cancer Lawsuits
Rumors of asbestos in Johnson and Johnson talc first came to light after secret corporate documents were revealed during a number of lawsuits filed over talc’s link to ovarian cancer.
Memos between high-level Johnson and Johnson executives and several talc mines appeared to reveal that some in the organization were aware that J&J’s talc deposits were contaminated.
Thousands of product liability lawsuits have been filed over talc’s connection to ovarian cancer, but in light of recent revelations, an emerging area of litigation surrounds asbestos and the deadly form of cancer, mesothelioma, that asbestos exposure can cause. And more than 9,000 ovarian cancer cases now include asbestos-related allegations, too, according to Bloomberg.
Asbestos Argument Passes First Hurdle In Court
The case concluded on Thursday was the first test of plaintiffs’ claims that asbestos in the talc can increase the risk not just for mesothelioma, but ovarian cancer as well.
“This was a new theory and the jury lined up behind it,” says Jean Eggen, a professor of law at Widener University. Eggen believes that the jury’s verdict could lead to a sea change in talcum powder litigation, since there are currently far fewer asbestos cases than ovarian cancer cases filed in court.
22 Women, 1 Case
In the present case, 22 women say they used Johnson and Johnson’s talc products for years on their genitals, then were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They accuse Johnson and Johnson of manipulating scientific data to downplay the risks posed by talc, while failing to place stringent warnings on product labeling that could have saved lives.
Many juries have agreed with these accusations, awarding multiple women millions of dollars in damages against the company. In the first lawsuit filed over talc’s asbestos content and the link to mesothelioma, a California couple was awarded $26 million in compensation two months ago.
Sending Johnson & Johnson A Message
On Thursday, it was clear that the 12 jurors were sending Johnson and Johnson a message. The jury awarded the 22 women a total of $550 million in compensatory damages. That money, $25 million per plaintiff, will go to cover their medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.
But the bulk of the judgment, $4.14 billion, comes as punitive damages, which are intended to punish defendants for particularly egregious negligence.
J&J Plans Appeal, Strikes Out At “Unfair” Process
Johnson and Johnson is “deeply disappointed in the verdict,” a statement that is sure to be celebrated amongst consumer advocates around the globe. “For over 40 years,” the women’s attorney said in a press release, “Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products.
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 should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease. J&J sells the same powders in a marvelously safe corn starch variety. If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning.”
Johnson and Johnson says the trial process was “fundamentally unfair,” noting that most of the women joined the case were not even from Missouri, where the evidence was heard.
The company has vowed to appeal the decision, with spokesperson Carol Goodrich writing that the $25 million compensatory damages awards were handed out to each plaintiff “irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable of law.”