Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $750 million in punitive damages to four plaintiffs who claimed Baby Powder caused their mesothelioma, after a New Jersey jury concluded the talc-based powder did contain asbestos.
While the Middlesex County Superior Court Judge overseeing the talcum powder lawsuit ultimately reduced the award to $185 million, the verdict was yet another blow for a company defending more than 16,800 additional claims that allege long-term use of Baby Powder and Shower-to-Show led to the development of ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.
Yesterday’s verdict came just weeks after jurors heard testimony from Alex Gorsky, marking the first time the Johnson & Johnson CEO had ever been called as a witness in a trial involving Baby Powder and cancer.
A separate jury had already awarded the four plaintiffs more than $37 million when the compensatory damages phase of their case concluded last year. In addition to finding that Baby Powder was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos, jurors empaneled for the trial’s punitive damages phase also agreed that Johnson & Johnson hadn’t properly informed consumers about the risk.
The trial judge was forced to reduce the award to $185 million, as New Jersey law limits punitive damages to five-times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in a case.
Johnson & Johnson maintains its talc-based powders are asbestos-free and do not cause cancer.
But in December 2018, a Reuters investigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson’s raw talc – as well as its finished powders – had periodically tested positive for traces of asbestos since the 1970s. The report also suggested company officials chose not to inform regulators or warn the public out of concern that such a disclosure would damage Johnson & Johnson’s “caring” image.
Last year, testing conducted by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration detected “subtraces” of asbestos in a single bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. While the company ultimately announced a recall for more than 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder, Johnson & Johnson continues to maintain that its own testing indicated the powder was asbestos-free.
Yet in his recent testimony, CEO Alex Gorsky admitted he could no longer publicly claim that Baby Powder does not contain asbestos because of the FDA’s findings.