Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay US$4.7B in talc powder lawsuit

By @chelean on
A bottle of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder is seen in a photo illustration taken in New York, February 24, 2016.
A bottle of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder is seen in a photo illustration taken in New York, February 24, 2016. Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/Illustration/File Photo

Pharmaceutical goods giant Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay nearly US$4.7 billion (AU$6.34 billion) to 22 women who alleged its talc-based products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. The verdict, unanimously decided by a jury in Missouri, US, is the largest fine that the multinational company has faced to date.

On Thursday, after almost six weeks of testimony by experts on both sides, the jury announced that Johnson & Johnson should pay US$4.14 billion (AU$5.58 billion) in punitive damages in addition to the US$550 million (AU$742 million) in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs. The women claimed the asbestos in the company’s talc-based powders contributed to the development of their ovarian cancer.

The women and their families claimed that company knew that its Baby Powder and other talc products contained asbestos since the ‘70s but did not warn consumers about it. They said that their decades’ use of the products caused their cancer.

The company denies the claims, saying its talc products do not contain asbestos or cause cancer. It also objected to the “unfair process” that allowed the women to sue in the state despite most of them not living in Missouri. Seventeen of the plaintiffs were from other states; only five of them were from Missouri. Six of them have already died from ovarian cancer.

“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,” company spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said.

She further said that the verdict awarding all women the same amount despite differences in their circumstances prove that the case was overwhelmed by prejudice. “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.”

The company is facing about 9,000 cases from women who claim its talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Over the years, it has suffered great losses from unsuccessful trials. In 2016, Missouri court also ordered the company to pay US$55 million (AU$74.2 million) to an ovarian cancer patient. Last year, it was also ordered to pay US$110 million (AU$148 million) to a Virginia woman over the same issue.

The US$4.7 billion award is the biggest yet Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay plaintiffs.