Twenty-two women and their families went up against Johnson & Johnson in a St. Louis court and won. The jury hit the company with $4.7 billion, including $550 million to the women for damages caused by long-term use of Baby Powder and other talcum powder products made by the Johnson & Johnson. The women’s legal teams successfully proved to the jury the talc products caused or significantly contributed to the development of ovarian cancer.
Asbestos, Talcum Powder, and Cancer
The current case is one of thousands that have been filed by women who claim Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products, including Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, contain asbestos and contributed to their ovarian cancers. Talcum powder is made from a natural mineral called talc. When talc is mined it is not pure but contains traces of other minerals, including asbestos, which is carcinogenic.
Federal regulations set in the 1970s are supposed to ensure that talc products are free of asbestos, but there have been studies that show this is not always the case. Furthermore, there have been studies that show regular, long-term talcum powder use could contribute to ovarian cancer, but the results from multiple studies are mixed. From the current trial in St. Louis, doctors presented evidence that talc particles had been found in the tumors of the plaintiffs, which indicates the use of the powder could have played a role in the development of the cancer.
The $4.7 Billion Verdict
The trial that just ended in St. Louis is important because it was a win for the plaintiffs, consumers who trusted in the safety of the talcum baby powder products, and because of the huge amount of the verdict. The talcum powder lawsuit involved 22 women, including the families of six women who passed away. After hearing the evidence the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded $550 million in compensatory damages, to cover things like medical expenses. The remainder, $4.14 billion was awarded as punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson.
Some of the evidence that the plaintiffs’ lawyers brought in front of the jury had not been seen in other similar trials. This was the first case in which the plaintiffs presented scientific evidence that there was asbestos in the baby powder products and that the women’s tumors contained particles of both asbestos and talc. The lawyers also presented proof that Johnson & Johnson knew about asbestos in talc, shoring up the argument that the company failed to warn consumers of the risks of using the hygiene products.
Other similar cases against Johnson & Johnson involved individual plaintiffs, and while many ended in favor of the women, all have been appealed and a few have even been overturned. There have been many successes for consumers, though, including the case of a man in New Jersey who developed mesothelioma, a known asbestos-related cancer, after years of using Baby Powder. A jury awarded him $117 million.
Johnson & Johnson has stated that it will soon begin the appeals process of the St. Louis case. The company has argued that the trial was unfair because multiple women were allowed to file the lawsuit in Missouri but lived and used their products in other states. They have also claimed the trial was full of errors and continue to insist their talcum powder products are safe. Whether this big award will be overturned remains to be seen.