July 15, 2020 - In July 2018, a St. Louis jury awarded nearly $4.7 billion ($4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages) to 22 women and their families, after those women claimed asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Up until now, the ovarian cancer claims against J & J focused on the talc fibers, rather than asbestos.
Missouri Appeals Court Reduces Punitive Damages, Upholds Compensatory Damages - Of course, Johnson & Johnson appealed the verdict, as they have for virtually every adverse decision regarding the dangers of talc and/or asbestos in their iconic baby powder with talc. A Missouri appeals court obviously felt differently, refusing to toss out the billion-dollar jury verdict against J & J.
The court did, however, cut the total payout to the 22 women from $4.7 billion to $2.1 billion (cutting the punitive damages to about $1.6 billion, and keeping $500 million in compensatory damages, or $25 million for each woman). The appeals court knocked out awards for two women who live outside the state of Missouri while upholding the awards for another 15 women who also live outside the state.
The judges found a legitimate basis for the 15 women because they used a J &J talc-based product called “Shimmer” which is produced in Union, Missouri. The three-judge panel unanimously agreed in an 83-page opinion issued on June 23rd. Johnson & Johnson has vowed to take the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Johnson & Johnson Continues to Maintain Its Baby Powder is Safe - In the original decision, after a six-week trial, plaintiffs’ experts testified that the risk of asbestos exposure from talc powder use was based on “reasonable methodology.” Johnson & Johnson claimed the trial process was unfair because most of the 22 women suing did not live in the state of Missouri where the trial was held.
A spokesperson said at the time of the original decision that “Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer…” Plaintiffs’ attorneys claimed Johnson & Johnson not only knew that its baby powder with talc could cause ovarian cancer, but that the company also covered up evidence of asbestos in their product for over four decades.
Asbestos and Talc Fibers Found in Ovarian Tissues - Asbestos is a known carcinogen and is often found in close proximity to areas where mineral talc is found and mined. The theory is that the asbestos can easily become intermingled with the talc—the primary ingredient in J & J’s baby powder with talc and Shower to Shower powder. Both talc fibers and asbestos fibers were found in the ovarian tissues of many of the 22 women involved in this case.
Johnson & Johnson Stops Manufacture of Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada - Just a month ago, J & J announced it would stop manufacturing baby powder with talc, although the company claimed the decision was based on slow sales due to the media coverage of the baby powder ovarian cancer trials, maintaining the safety of the product. J & J is still facing nearly 20,000 lawsuits that lay the blame for their ovarian cancer or mesothelioma on the talc or asbestos found in J & J’s baby powder.
Appeals Court Judges Find “Significant Reprehensibility” in J & J’s Handling of the Issue - In their opinion which upheld the original verdict of culpability, the appeals court judges stated they found “significant reprehensibility” in the way J & J handled the issue of asbestos in its baby powder. Avoiding adopting more accurate measures for detecting asbestos and refusing to replace talc with cornstarch were just two of the bad conduct measures engaged in by J & J, according to the judges.