Health Care

$4.69 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder

$4.69 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder”

A St. Louis jury awarded almost $4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families Thursday in the first case against Johnson & Johnson that focused on asbestos in talcum powder.

Thursday's massive verdict, handed down in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, was comprised of $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Mark Lanier told the jurors during closing arguments Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson knew its products contained asbestos and didn't warn consumers.

While the more than US$4 billion punitive-damage verdict will grab the headlines, the jury's decision that asbestos in J&J's Baby Powder caused the women's ovarian cancer may be a bigger, long-term concern, said Jean Eggen, a Widener University law professor who teaches about mass-tort cases.

Johnson & Johnson is also fighting a separate battle with plaintiffs who blame the company's talc products for their developing mesothelioma, a form of cancer generally found in the lungs, that is linked to asbestos exposure.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Mark Lanier (left), said that Johnson & Johnson knew asbestos was in their products.

According to a report in The New York Times, Johnson & Johnson said that it is planning to appeal the verdict as it was "disappointed" with the jury's decision.

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

The plaintiffs argued that Johnson & Johnson covered up knowledge of asbestos in its talcum powder products for some 40 years instead of including that information on a warning label.

Johnson & Johnson vehemently denies that their product is unsafe and vowed to appeal the verdict.

A separate but related set of lawsuits suggest Johnson & Johnson's powder is contaminated with asbestos. It said some studies had shown a link between use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer but more research was needed as "there was no consistent evidence to prove that the more you use talc, the greater your risk of ovarian cancer".

The plaintiffs' lawyers said asbestos fibers and talc particles were found in the ovarian tissues of numerous women.

A jury ruled in Johnson & Johnson's favor in one lawsuit in California last November. "But sympathy aside, the plaintiffs have not come anywhere close to proving their case".

Johnson & Johnson has faced multiple trials in St. Louis over ovarian-cancer claims, losing four of the first five to go to trial. Several other legal challenges by J&J are pending. However, there are experts who are still concerned about the safety of talc today, despite new asbestos-free formulas.

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