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$4.69 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder

13 July 2018

Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $4.7 billion to 22 women who claimed the company's baby powder caused ovarian cancer.

The jury later added $4.1 billion (around Rs 28,100 crore) in punitive damages.

J&J knew its talc products were contaminated with asbestos and kept this information from reaching the public, Mark Lanier, the plaintiffs' lawyer told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday.

Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement that the company believes its products are safe and will pursue "all available appellate remedies".

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Jurors announced the award for compensatory damages Thursday in a lawsuit that included 22 plaintiffs. Lawyers allege asbestos fibers and talc particles had been found in the ovarian tissues of numerous women they represent.

The punitive damages are among the largest ever awarded in a product liability case, he said.

J&J "rigged" tests to avoid showing the presence of asbestos, Lanier said. The woman, Deane Berg also said that the company offered her a settlement of $1.3 million that she turned down.

Johnson & Johnson has been hit with its biggest penalty yet over the allegation that its talcum powders cause cancer. Two of those plaintiffs' verdicts, one for US$72 million and the other for US$55 million, have been erased on appeal on jurisdictional grounds.

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Commenting after the latest trial, Cary Wakefield, chief executive of the charity Ovarian Cancer Action said: "If you're now using talc, don't panic". Bicks asked. "Does that make common sense, when Johnson & Johnson is doing all this testing?" It said some studies had shown a link between use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer but more research was needed as "there was no consistent evidence to prove that the more you use talc, the greater your risk of ovarian cancer".

The women and their families said decades-long use of baby powder and other cosmetic talc products caused their diseases.

The company has been fighting claims that talc powder is unsafe for years.

The women who sued, whose jobs range from school bus driver to executive director of a job-retraining program, come from states including Pennsylvania, California, Arizona and NY. "But sympathy aside, the plaintiffs have not come anywhere close to proving their case".

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But several other settlements have been affirmed with more cases pending. However, this and a $72 million award in a separate case were both overturned on the basis of insufficient evidence and alleged jury misconduct in setting high damages. However, there are experts who are still concerned about the safety of talc today, despite new asbestos-free formulas. The U.S. Supreme Court has said such punishment awards must be proportional to compensatory damage verdicts that underlie them. But the prosecution lawyer told the Missouri court that the FDA and Johnson & Johnson had used flawed testing methods.