Johnson & Johnson (J&J) was ordered by a jury in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis to pay $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages to 22 women. The plaintiffs allege that their use of J&J brand talcum powder led to them contracting ovarian cancer. Talcum powder is a popular cosmetic that is used mainly on the bottoms of young children. It can, however, be used as a feminine hygiene product due to its drying properties to reduce odor. When used by older women, the plaintiffs claim that talc can enter into the woman’s ovaries, causing tumors. The trial lasted six weeks.
Lawyers for the 22 women argued that J&J covered up evidence of asbestos – a known carcinogen – in their talc products. Talc, when inhaled in its natural, mineral form, is known to contain asbestos and potentially cause lung cancer. Johnson & Johnson contended that there is questionable evidence, however, as to whether or not refined talc causes cancer when applied to one’s genitals.
A 1982 Harvard study concluded that talc causes ovarian cancer.
Researchers found traces of talc in the women’s ovarian tumors.
J&J noted the apparent lack of scientific evidence in their public statements early Thursday. Spokespeople for J&J stated that they are “deeply disappointed in the verdict” and that they plan to appeal the decision as soon as they can. This tone is very much different than the feeling of the courtroom, which as the New York Times reports, was very emotional. Six of the women had died before the verdict was given, but their families were in the courtroom. One of the women was undergoing chemotherapy and was too ill to attend.
The verdict follows a more than $417 million verdict against J&J in Los Angeles for ovarian cancer alleged to have been caused by talcum powder. The case was reversed on appeal, and the Plaintiff has since passed away.
J&J is expected to appeal the verdict, but regardless of the appeal result, the Missouri jury clearly intended to send a very strong message to J&J.