A state court has slashed a $4.7 billion jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson on appeal, but hit out at the company for knowingly selling a product that can cause cancer. A St. Louis jury originally awarded billions of dollars to victims developing cancer after using J&J talcum powder. The award has now been reduced to $2.1 billion, but the company has still been condemned for its actions.
According to a report in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Eastern District Court of Appeals rejected Johnson & Johnson’s request to toss out the 2018 verdict, which awarded 22 plaintiffs a share of the money. It was awarded to victims claiming that J&J’s talcum powder products caused ovarian cancer in women who had used them for years for feminine hygiene purposes.
While the court reduced the award to $2.1 billion, it wrote that a “large amount of punitive damages” is necessary to have a deterrent effect. The panel also wrote that it found “significant reprehensibility in the defendants’ conduct” and that the harm suffered by plaintiffs was not just financial but also physical. These were individuals who developed and suffered from ovarian cancer. The court noted that plaintiffs underwent chemotherapies, hysterectomies, and other types of surgeries to battle cancer.
Talcum Powder and Cancer
The trial differed from five previous talcum powder cases in St. Louis by focusing on the women’s claims that their ovarian cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos allegedly found in J&J’s baby powder. The court wrote that it could be reasonably inferred from the evidence presented in this case that J&J was motivated by profits when it disregarded the safety of its consumer, despite the knowledge that talc in its products caused ovarian cancer.
In prior trials, the company’s lawyers repeatedly rejected asbestos-related claims and maintained that their products are asbestos-free and safe for consumers. Asbestos is a mineral and a known carcinogen that has been linked to mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. However, in May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would stop selling baby powder in the U.S. and Canada. It still faces thousands of lawsuits claiming that its talc-based powder caused cancer.
Failure to Warn
The fact that this court in Missouri made such a strong statement is extremely vindicating for plaintiffs. J&J has known for decades that there was asbestos in its talcum powder. Internal company records, trial testimony, and other evidence show that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, J&J’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for asbestos. But the company made absolutely no effort to warn consumers about this risk. Instead, they marketed these products to women and doubled down on the claim that their talc products were safe and asbestos-free.
As product defect lawyers representing the rights of victims who have developed cancer from talcum powder use, we are thankful to the appellate court in Missouri for making this strong statement and upholding the fact that J&J knowingly sold these dangerous products to consumers for decades without putting any warnings on them.