Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $2.1b in cancerous baby powder lawsuit

A Missouri appeals court on Tuesday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $2.1 billion to women who claimed the company’s talc-based products caused their ovarian cancer, New York Times reports.

The decision by the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals cut in half the amount of compensatory and punitive damages the company is required to pay compared with a previous jury verdict, according to reports.

The jury verdict from July 2018 had ordered $4.69 billion paid after allegations by 22 women and their families, but the court ruled to reduce the damages owed because it said some of the plaintiffs were from out of state and should not have been included in the suit.

Johnson & Johnson had appealed the verdict, requesting the court throw out the decision entirely, which the court declined to do, saying it had found “significant reprehensibility” in the company’s conduct. The court cited in its decision internal memorandums as far back as the 1960s indicating the company’s talcum products contained asbestos, a known carcinogen.

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“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 ruling said, according to The New York Times.

The plaintiffs “showed clear and convincing evidence defendants engaged in conduct that was outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference,” the court said.

Johnson & Johnson has to pay $500 million in actual damages and $1.62 billion in punitive damages.

Kim Montagnino, a spokeswoman for the company, told the Times that Johnson & Johnson will seek review of the case by the Supreme Court of Missouri.

“We continue to believe this was a fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” she said. “We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos-free and does not cause cancer.”

Mark Lanier, who represents the plaintiffs, said the decision was “a clarion call for J&J to try and find a good way to resolve the cases for the people who have been hurt”. Six plaintiffs in the case died before the trial began, and another five have died since the trial ended in 2018, according to the Times.

Lanier in a statement said that his clients “appreciate the extensive time and careful scholarship shown in the appellate court’s meticulous detailed ruling.”

Johnson & Johnson has defended its talc-based products as safe as the company has faced more than 19,000 lawsuits relating to those products as of March. The company has appealed almost all of the cases it has lost.

Last month, the company announced it would discontinue its talc-based products in the U.S. and Canada, citing decreased sales and “misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.”

In October, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration found trace amounts of asbestos in a bottle.

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