Johnson & Johnson’s bid to escape a $186 million punitive award over its sale of baby powder was thrown out by a New Jersey state judge. The court cited the pharmaceutical company’s “direct lies” to consumers and regulators regarding its baby powder allegedly contaminated with asbestos.
Judge Ana C Viscomi denied the company’s motions to reduce the compensation, saying jurors could find by “clear and convincing evidence presented” that J&J engaged in a series of misdeeds. She also noted that the company lied to the FDA by “editing unfavorable test results from reports” and lied to consumers by claiming a cleansing procedure “removed all impurities” from its talc powder products.
“J&J’s conduct here was reprehensible,” Judge Viscomi said while issuing her decisions, later adding: “ The award, modified by the Punitive Damages Act, is not so clearly disproportionate to the injury and does not shock the conscience of the court.”
The judge later reduced each punitive award due to the state’s statutory cap on punitive damages to make it five times the amount of the respective compensatory verdict. Viscomi elaborated on her reasons for denying J&J’s motions for a mistrial, including the company’s mistrial bid over the judge’s ruling to strike the closing argument of then J&J attorney Diane Sullivan.
Judge Viscomi indicated that she struck the closing argument after Sullivan had ignored the judge’s admonishments throughout the trial.
“Counsel was warned what would happen if she continued her conduct. It was her choice to make,” said the judge, adding that Sullivan “chose to continue willful violations of court orders.”
A spokesperson from J&J did not immediately respond to a request for comment.