The Missouri Court of Appeals ordered Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary to pay $2.1 billion in damages to women who blamed their ovarian cancers on the company’s talcum powder. This was reduced from a $4.69 billion St. Louis jury verdict. The Court held: “A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their products caused ovarian cancer…” The Court held that the plaintiffs “showed clear and convincing evidence defendants engaged in conduct that was outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference…” The Court noted that Johnson & Johnson internal memorandums from as far back as the 1960s indicated that its talcum products, which it referred to as the “golden egg,” and “company trust-mark”, contained asbestos.
This is the largest award upheld by an appellate court to date against Johnson & Johnson. The company announced last month that it would stop selling baby powder made from talc in North America, though it would continue to market the product elsewhere in the world.
Talc and asbestos are natural minerals which develop underground under similar geological conditions. Underground veins of asbestos deposits may crisscross talc deposits in mines. Earlier lawsuits claimed that talc itself caused cancer but plaintiffs have shifted their arguments now attributing cancer to trace amounts of asbestos which contaminate talc.
For decades there has been evidence of trace amounts of asbestos in talc. This prompted Johnson & Johnson to develop an alternative powder made from cornstarch, but continued to manufacture and sell talcum powder for decades thereafter.
Internal memos unearthed during litigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson had been concerned about asbestos in its talc for at least 50 years.
Late last year, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after F.D.A. investigators said they had discovered asbestos in a bottle bought from an online retailer. But the company later said its own tests exonerated the product.
Johnson & Johnson is fending off other unrelated lawsuits, including those arising out of its production of opioids, which were allegedly oversold, and anti-antipsychotic drug Risperdal. Multiple juries have awarded punitive damages in those cases, evidencing that Johnson & Johnson values profits over patients. The company is now racing to develop a vaccine for coronavirus.
Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP represents women who contracted ovarian cancer from talc products.