St. Louis Jury Awards $4.7 Billion in Punitive Damages in J&J Asbestos Lawsuit


In a particularly large result, a St. Louis jury awarded almost $4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families in a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson. Like many similar lawsuits, this case alleged that asbestos in J&J’s talcum powder contributed to ovarian cancer.

In May, a Los Angeles jury sided with 68-year-old Joanne Anderson, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma allegedly linked to a Johnson & Johnson talc product. It was the second similar award regarding the product. The jury awarded Anderson compensatory damages of $21.7 million. J&J is responsible for 67 percent of the award, with the remainder spread out among the other defendants.

Anderson and her husband sued J&J, a division of Imerys SA, Cyprus Amax Minerals, a unit of Brenntag, Honeywell International, and other talc suppliers, claiming that asbestos in the talc caused her mesothelioma, a type of cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

According to Reuters, J&J has been fending off approximately 6,000 lawsuits claiming its baby power causes ovarian cancer. Bloomberg puts the claims at 9,000.

J&J has consistently denied the products contain asbestos or causes cancer-based on decades of testing by researchers and independent laboratories. The plaintiffs argue that asbestos and talc are intermingled in the mining process, and that it’s impossible to separate out the asbestos.

The St. Louis case involved 22 plaintiffs, six who died from ovarian cancer. Five were from Missouri, while others were from Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas.

The jury awarded $550 million in compensatory damages at the end of the trial, which lasted six weeks.

In a statement, J&J spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said, “Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer and intends to pursue all available appellate remedies.” The company also went after this particular case’s jurisdiction and legal activities, stating, it “was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer.”

In May, Rx Injury Help wrote, “Plaintiffs pursuing these cases claim that the company has been aware of numerous studies suggesting the regular and repeated application of talcum powder to the female genitals may contribute to the development of the often-deadly disease. The company allegedly failed to warn the public of this potential risk in order to protect sales derived from the Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower franchises. Since February 2015, a half-dozen talcum powder ovarian cancer plaintiffs have been awarded multi-million-dollar judgments ranging from $55 million to $417 million, though two of those verdicts were later overturned.”

What seems somewhat perplexing is if there really was enough asbestos to be found in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower, why the number of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma cases isn’t higher. According to Statista, between the two products alone, 71.55 million people used the products in 2017 alone. And there are numerous other brands of talc as well.

The American Cancer Society, for instance, says, “In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled. All talcum product used in homes in the United States have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.”

The plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Mark Lanier, argued that J&J had known about the asbestos and covered it up for more than 40 years. “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,” he stated. “The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease.”

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lanier indicated in closing arguments that this was the first case where jurors actually saw documentation that J&J knew about the asbestos in its products but didn’t warn customers.

Goodrich also noted that, “Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed.”

And even the plaintiff’s lawyers noted that state law limits punitive damage awards to five times the compensatory damages, so J&J’s lawyers will likely file a motion to reduce the award.

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