A Missouri jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a total of $4.7 billion to 22 women or their survivors, after finding that the company failed to warn consumers that long-term use of the its popular talcum powder products could lead to ovarian cancer.
The verdict followed more than a month of testimony in Missouri’s 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis. Each plaintiff – including 6 who filed on behalf of deceased loved ones – was awarded $25 million.
The judgment stands as the largest so far in Missouri’s massive talcum powder litigation. In addition to compensatory damages totaling $550 million, the jury also levied $3.15 billion in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson and $990,000 against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc.
Unlike previous talcum powder lawsuits that have gone to trial in St. Louis, these plaintiffs alleged that the talcum powder used to manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products contained trace amounts of asbestos.
The jury was also the first in Missouri to view internal company documents that, according to plaintiffs, confirm that Johnson & Johnson knew its talc was tainted with asbestos and knowingly failed to warn the public of this risk.
“The money really isn’t the important part. It’s for woman to learn about what’s in talc and get it off there,” plaintiff Gail Ingham, 73, of O’Fallon, Missouri, told reporters after yesterday’s verdict was announced. “And that maybe one or more will never have to go through this, or you won’t have to put it on your babies, because that’s the important thing about it.”
Imerys Talc America, Johnson & Johnson’s talc supplier, settled claims brought by the same 22 plaintiffs just before the trial began. According to Bloomberg News, the company agreed to pay at least $5 million to resolve the cases.
Imerys has not admitted fault for any of the plaintiffs’ injuries and continues to deny that its talc was tainted with asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson has been named a defendant in more than 9,000 talcum powder lawsuits, the majority of which were filed on behalf of women who allegedly developed ovarian cancer due to their long-term use of the company’s products for feminine hygiene purposes. Most of those plaintiffs allege that the talc itself caused cancer.
Since February 2015, Missouri has concluded a half-dozen talcum powder ovarian cancer trials, with juries ruling for plaintiffs in four of those cases:
The $72 million verdict was eventually dismissed to comply with new standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, which held that plaintiffs must file suit in jurisdictions where defendants are headquartered or where their injuries occurred.
A Missouri appeals court also threw out the $55 million in June on similar grounds.
Johnson & Johnson is also facing claims that its allegedly asbestos-tainted talcum powders caused mesothelioma.
In May, a California jury ordered the company and its talcum suppliers to pay $27.1 million to a woman allegedly developed mesothelioma due to asbestos in Baby Powder. The jury later added an additional $4 million in punitive damages to that judgment, after finding that the healthcare products giant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud.
The previous month, a jury in New Jersey’s Middlesex County Superior Court awarded $117 million in compensatory and punitive damages to a man who also claimed that his life-long use of Baby Powder was the only possible explanation for his mesothelioma diagnosis. Johnson & Johnson was found 70% liable for the damages incurred by the plaintiff and his wife, while Imerys was found 30% responsible.
Johnson & Johnson did win a California mesothelioma trial that concluded last November. And just last month, a mistrial was declared in a third California case after the plaintiff passed away.