A New Jersey state jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $750 million in punitive damages to four people who said using the company’s popular talcum powder products caused them to develop mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer linked to asbestos that affects the lining of the lungs and other vital organs. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the judge presiding over the trial cited state law in saying she planned to reduce the punitive award to $186.5 million. A separate jury awarded $37.3 million to the plaintiffs in the first phase of the trial last year.
This trial was significant because it was the first one in which J&J CEO Alex Gorsky testified in a courtroom in litigation over the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower brands. Gorsky testified during the trial that the company took steps to ensure that its talc products were safe and did not contain asbestos. The jury, however, determined that J&J’s conduct caused harm to the plaintiffs who developed mesothelioma and that the corporation’s conduct was either “malicious or in wanton and willful disregard of their rights.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued during the trial that the powders contained asbestos and that J&J did not sufficiently warn consumers about the risks of using these products. J&J has said it will appeal the verdicts both in the compensatory and punitive phases of the trial. The company has continually maintained that its own independent testing has shown that its products are safe and asbestos-free.
Asbestos in Baby Powder
However, testing by a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contractor last fall showed traces of asbestos in a bottle of J&J’s Baby Powder. Subsequently, the company recalled about 33,000 bottles from the same lot as a precautionary measure, but later hired another testing company and determined that the powder was asbestos-free.
So far, 16,800 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against J&J in U.S. state and federal courts alleging the company’s talcum powders caused mesothelioma or ovarian cancers and that the company failed to properly warn consumers of this risk. In addition, the company is facing tens of thousands of lawsuits over the safety and marketing of a number of pharmaceutical products such as opioids, the antipsychotic drug Risperdal and vaginal mesh devices.
As product defect attorneys who represent injured clients not only in talcum powder lawsuits but also in pharmaceutical liability cases involving defective drugs and medical devices, we welcome the jury verdicts in this case. We believe that corporations that deliberately put consumers in harm’s way and/or fail to warn the public about the risks posed by their products should be held accountable.