A St. Louis jury has awarded $550 million in compensatory damages and an additional $4.14 billion in punitive damages to the 22 women who proved that Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. The trial was held in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri. The Plaintiffs proved that J&J and its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, concealed the fact that their talc was contaminated with asbestos.
The plaintiff’s argued that J&J sold its archetypal product, white-bottled baby powder, knowing that the talc-based product was contaminated with asbestos and failed to warn consumers of the contamination in order to protect the company’s own image. All 22 plaintiffs habitually used J&J white-bottled baby powder for feminine hygiene, and all 22 were subsequently diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
The plaintiff’s lead attorney, Mark Lanier, said that concerned with profits alone, J&J has been concealing evidence of asbestos’s presence in talc since 1973.
“This is not the Johnson & Johnson of yesteryear, the Johnson brothers of 1875,” Lanier said. “This is a multi-national corporation. It still plays on the idea because it will evoke warm feelings of trust. That’s why they (J&J) call it (baby powder) their golden egg, their sacred cow.”
Lanier went as far as to call the defense’s witnesses “hired guns” who took part in “junk science” to serve the needs of the manufacturers.
Lanier cited the findings of Dr. William Longo, an electron microscope research scientist whose research has linked asbestos’ presence in talc to higher risks of ovarian cancer. Dr. Longo’s testimony has been key to many of the prosecutorial arguments in past talc cases.
J&J unceasingly defended its staple product, countering throughout the month and a half long trial that the prosecution’s claims were unfounded. “The talc in Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause ovarian cancer and we will continue to defend the safety of our product,” said J&J spokesperson Carol Goodrich in a statement prior to jury deliberations. J&J presented expert witnesses who testified that other risk factors, such as inherited prior family histories of cancer and mutating genes unrelated to talc, were the reasons that the plaintiffs developed ovarian cancer.
Although this is not the first claim against J&J talc products, the stakes in this St. Louis lawsuit were much higher.
Unlike previous claims against J&J talc, which argued that talc itself caused women to develop ovarian cancer, this is the first argument to focus on the claim that the talc products were contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen, and that asbestos itself caused plaintiffs to develop ovarian cancer.
Asbestos is a mineral that is often found near talc deposits.
J&J has previously defended claims that their talc products contained asbestos and that inhalation of the product caused consumers to develop cancer. This is the first case where the direct application of talc products supposedly containing asbestos caused the plaintiffs to develop cancer near or around the application point.
Because the jury has found in favor of the plaintiffs, this decision opens the floodgates for similar talcum powder lawsuits to be tried in state and federal courts nationwide, with a potential for J&J to face billions of dollars in future verdicts.
Prior juries have found that J&J talc products caused women to develop ovarian cancer, but never as a result of asbestos exposure. Previous single-plaintiff verdicts have surpassed $100 million, which explains why this talc powder verdict, which included 22 plaintiffs, was so great in comparison.
J&J is also facing a number of other legal battles against claims that their talc products caused consumers to develop mesothelioma (link page here), a form of lung cancer closely linked to asbestos exposure.
This decision will shape the context of the arguments for the nearly 9000 talc-related claims pending against J&J nationwide.