Jury awards $4.7 billion in talcum powder case

Johnson and Johnson baby powder.

Shares of Johnson & Johnson were sliding Friday morning, down 2.68%, the day after a St. Louis jury awarded $4.69 billion to the 22 women who said its talcum baby powder gave them ovarian cancer. The amount marks the largest jury award in the USA in 2018, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and the sixth-largest jury verdict in a product-defect claim in United States history.

As this blog post points out, Johnson & Johnson has been hit with some million-dollar punitive damages awards in other talcum powder cases.

The majority of the lawsuits that J&J faces involve claims that talc itself caused ovarian cancer, but a smaller number of cases allege that contaminated talc caused mesothelioma, a tissue cancer closely linked to asbestos exposure.

The company has been sued by more than 9,000 women who claim its talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer.

After falling almost 3 percent in pre-market trading, shares of the company were lately down almost 1 percent.

The company will appeal, Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman, said in an email.

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She said the case was overwhelmed with "prejudice" because each plaintiff was awarded the same $25 million "irrespective of their individual facts", according to Bloomberg.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Mark Lanier told the jurors during closing arguments Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson knew its products contained asbestos and didn't warn consumers.

J&J "rigged" tests to avoid showing the presence of asbestos, Lanier said. If a test showed the presence of asbestos J&J sent it to a lab the company knew would produce different results, he told the jurors.

The company said its talc does not contain asbestos or cause ovarian cancer, and vowed it would "pursue all available appellate remedies".

"This was a new theory and the jury lined up behind it", Eggen said.

The punitive damages are among the largest ever awarded in a product liability case, he said. Johnson & Johnson sold the product to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International in 2012. A court in California ruled on a similar case against the cosmetics company past year, calling on it to pay $417 million. A Missouri appeals court tossed out a $55 million verdict in June citing jurisdictional issues. The other two are on appeal, facing the same challenges from J&J. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas.

Six of the women have died, while one is undergoing chemotherapy and was physically unable to appear at the verdict this week, according to Lanier.

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