A jury in a Missouri circuit court has ordered Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) to pay $4.69 billion for failing to warn customers about cancer risks associated with its baby and body powders containing talcum powder. The jury awarded 22 women and their families $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages. The punitive damages are among the largest ever awarded in a product liability case
The 22 women bringing the lawsuit had claimed that asbestos in the company’s products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. The women alleged that Johnson & Johnson had spent 40 years covering up evidence of asbestos in some of its talcum-based products. The company said in a statement that it “remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer.”
Asbestos is a carcinogen that sometimes appears in natural talc, as the two substances can appear in close proximity in the earth. Plaintiffs claim the two can become intermingled in the mining process. Johnson & Johnson said that rigorous testing and purification processes ensure its talc is clean. A study of various talc samples conducted by U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 2009 to 2010, which included Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, found no asbestos in any of the talc samples.
In this case, the trial in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis lasted nearly six weeks and involved testimony by nearly a dozen experts on both sides. The jury deliberated over the compensatory damages for eight hours but reached a decision on the punitive damages in less than an hour. Mark Lanier, the lawyer for the women, said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson should pull its talc products from the market “before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease.”
Johnson & Johnson called the verdict “the product of a fundamentally unfair process” and that it “intends to pursue all available appellate remedies.” The company has been able to successfully appeal a number of talc verdicts on technical legal grounds. According to a regulatory document filed earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson is still facing more than 9,000 plaintiffs across the nation in cases involving body powders with talc.