A bad week just got a whole lot worse for Johnson & Johnson, after a Missouri judge upheld the $4.7 billion verdict awarded earlier this year to 22 talcum powder ovarian cancer plaintiffs.
News of the decision caused Johnson & Johnson stock to drop 1% yesterday, to $129 per share.
Overall shares are down roughly 13% this month, mostly due to concerns that some of the talc used to manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and other popular body powder brands could be tainted with asbestos.
The plaintiffs involved in the Missouri talcum powder lawsuit are among thousands who allegedly developed ovarian cancer due to the regular and repeated use of Baby Powder and Shower-to=Shower for feminine hygiene purposes. However, the trial was the first to test claims that asbestos-tainted talc led to the disease.
The case concluded in July, when a jury in Missouri’s 22nd Circuit Court, St. Louis, awarded the plaintiffs $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages. During the trial, the plaintiffs’ attorneys presented internal emails and other documents to convince the jury that Johnson & Johnson officials knew as early a as the 1970s that asbestos lurked in its talc, but intentionally failed to warn consumers.
Johnson & Johnson denies its talc contains asbestos and disputes claims that its body powders cause any form of cancer. Furthermore, the company downplayed yesterday’s decision as a mere formality and vowed to appeal.
The majority of talcum powder ovarian cancer claims allege that the talc itself caused the often-fatal disease.
Juries have returned mixed verdicts in those cases, with the largest coming in at $417 million for a California plaintiff. However, a few juries have ruled for Johnson & Johnson, while the company successfully appealed the California verdict and several others.
A small number of talcum powder lawsuits involve mesothelioma allegations. Asbestos exposure is a leading cause of the deadly cancer.
Two recent juries found for plaintiffs, including a California case that concluded in May with a $25 million verdict. A month earlier, a New Jersey jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $117 million to another plaintiff.
The decision upholding the $4.7 billion talcum powder ovarian cancer case comes less than a week after Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson had long concealed tests that turned up trace amounts of asbestos in some of its raw talc.
According to Reuters, Johnson & Johnson periodically contracted outside labs to test its talc for the cancer-causing mineral. The majority of tests conducted from the early 1970s through the 200o’s were negative for asbestos. However, a few turned up miniscule amounts of the toxin.
What’s more, testing conducted at Mt. Sinai in 1971 found asbestos in Baby Powder, as did testing done at Rutgers University in 1991. A scientist at the University of Minnesota detected asbestos in a sample of Shower-to-Shower in 1972.
Documents reviewed by Reuters suggest Johnson & Johnson executives were concerned by these findings, but failed to take any steps to warn regulators or consumers. Over the years, the company has also worked to stymie regulations that would have limited asbestos in talc-based cosmetic products. What’s more, Johnson & Johnson has taken steps to undermine research into talc’s health effects.
Finally, internal memos, emails, and other documents highlighted by Reuters show that Johnson & Johnson executives saw Baby Powder as a “sacred cow” central to its image as a “caring company.” They clearly believed that any revelations regarding asbestos in Baby Powder threatened that image.