Published: Fri, July 13, 2018
Medical | By Johnnie Horton

Johnson and Johnson ordered to pay $742m in talc asbestos cancer case

Johnson and Johnson ordered to pay $742m in talc asbestos cancer case

Johnson & Johnson was ordered Thursday to pay $4.69 billion to 22 women and their families who had claimed that asbestos in the company's talcum powder products caused them to develop ovarian cancer.

The verdict of a court in the US state of Missouri follows an initial ruling, awarding 22 women compensation before adding a further $4.1 billion in punitive damages, the New York Times reported.

J&J knew its talc products were contaminated with asbestos and kept this information from reaching the public, Lanier, the plaintiffs' lawyer, told jurors in closing arguments.

But Lanier argued J&J traded on the reputation of its baby powder as a source of comfort, all while rigging tests over decades to hide cancer-causing asbestos the company knew was in its talc. Deane Berg had used the company's baby talcum powder for more than 40 years and discovered she had developed ovarian cancer in 2006.

During Wednesday's closings of the trial's first phase, plaintiffs' attorney Mark Lanier did not request a specific damage award but urged jurors to write their figures "in big letters".

Six of the 22 women are now deceased and one more was too ill to attend the trial; the courtroom was filled with the remaining plaintiffs and their families and friends.

The punitive damages are among the largest ever awarded in a product liability case, he said.

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J&J faces lawsuits from customers who say they were harmed by both its talc and transvaginal mesh products.

A bottle of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder is seen in a photo illustration taken in New York, February 24, 2016.

Target Ovarian Cancer said it was important to note that the increased risk was "very small". The company denies its products contain asbestos or that its powder causes cancer. Concerns about a link between talc and ovarian cancer started surfacing around 1971, when scientists wrote about finding talc particles embedded in ovarian and cervical tumor tissue. A jury found Johnson & Johnson negligent but did not award damages to the plaintiff.

The pharmaceutical giant added that several studies have shown its talcum powder to be safe and insisted the verdict was a product of a "fundamentally unfair process".

The women in the St Louis trial, whose jobs range from school bus driver to executive director of a job retraining programme, come from states across the country, including Pennsylvania, California, Arizona and NY.

The company has been sued by more than 9,000 women who claim its talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. "But sympathy aside, the plaintiffs have not come anywhere close to proving their case". It did not find asbestos in any of them.

J&J's statement reiterated its contention that its talc is asbestos-free and promised to challenge the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court has said such punishment awards must be proportional to compensatory damage verdicts that underlie them. This ruling was delivered by the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis.

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