A jury in St. Louis found Thursday that Johnson & Johnson should pay $4.69 billion in damages to 22 women and their families who blamed ovarian-cancer cases on asbestos in the company’s iconic baby powder, the biggest single verdict in such cases so far.
Jonathan Rockoff and Sara Randazzo of The Wall Street Journal had the story:
The jury awarded $550 million and later added $4.14 billion in punitive damages against the company for allegedly failing to warn that its talcum powder raised the risk of ovarian cancer.
J&J said it was “deeply disappointed” with the verdict, which the company said was the product of a “fundamentally unfair process” and plans to appeal.
Punitive damages, especially those many times higher than the compensatory damages, are often reduced by the trial judge or reversed on appeal. The company has been fighting more than 9,000 talcum-powder lawsuits with mixed success. It says its signature powder has always been safe and asbestos-free.
Robert Patrick and Joel Currier of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that jurors wants the company to feel an impact:
Asked what message jurors were trying to send to the company, a female juror who did not want her name used responded, “We were just trying to find something they would feel.” She said jurors did not arrive at the $4.14 billion punitive damage amount by chance. They multiplied the roughly $70 million Johnson & Johnson earned selling baby powder in a recent year by the 43 years it’s been since the company claimed the baby powder did not contain asbestos, she said.
Later, she could be overheard telling plaintiffs that as soon as she got her cell phone back after the trial, “I posted on Facebook: Do not buy.”
Plaintiff Cecilia Martinez of Dallas said she hopes the case will make Johnson & Johnson “make changes to protect mothers and babies.”
Martinez, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, also said she hopes the company will now operate with “honesty, integrity and do the right thing even when no one is watching.”
Tina Bellon of Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson has had such verdicts overturned in the past:
J&J has successfully overturned talc verdicts in the past, with appeals courts pointing to a 2017 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that limits where personal injury lawsuits can be filed.
Of the 22 women in the St. Louis trial, 17 were from outside Missouri, a state generally regarded as friendly towards plaintiffs. The practice of combining plaintiffs in such jurisdictions, commonly criticized as “forum shopping” by defendants, will be challenged on appeal.
Mark Lanier, the lawyer for the women, in a statement following the verdict called on J&J to pull its talc products from the market “before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease.”
“If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning,” Lanier said.