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14 July 2018, 04:00 | Rodolfo Wallace
Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7bn damages in talc cancer case
A jury awarded almost $US4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families who claimed asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer in the first case against the company that focused on asbestos in the powder.
The company is being sued by more than 9,000 women who claim the powder caused their ovarian cancer. All contended that asbestos exposure from longtime use of Johnson's Baby Powder or another talc product, Shower to Shower, had caused or contributed to the illnesses. Lanier, however, told jurors that the company "rigged the tests" to avoid conceding that its baby powder contained asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson said in a statement it was disappointed in the verdict but would not comment further until the punitive damages are announced.
J&J dropped 1.4 per cent in late trading after closing at US$127.76 in NY.
Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson had covered up evidence of asbestos in its products for more than 40 years.
The verdict follows several others against J&J; judges have nixed three in appeals.
The plaintiff's lawyers said asbestos fibers were found in the ovarian tissues of numerous women and introduced evidence that explained how asbestos is intermingled with the mineral talc - the primary ingredient in Johnson's "Baby Powder" and "Shower to Shower" products. Another mesothelioma case in late May ended in a mistrial.
"Yes, this is bad", Bicks said of the women's cancer. Valeant now faces suits over the body powder.
In 2003 the results of 16 studies involving 12,000 women showed that using talc increased the risk of ovarian cancer by around a third, according to ovarian cancer charity Ovacome. The risky strategy allows earlier plaintiffs to send signals about legal tactics and their award amounts to women who bring cases later. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas.
The punitive part of the St. Louis verdict may be particularly vulnerable to post-trial challenges or appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court has said such punishment awards must be proportional to compensatory damage verdicts that underlie them. In other cases, the justices have upheld a punishment award four times larger than compensatory damages.
According to the complaint filed past year in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, the women routinely used Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, an absorbent body powder, to "dust their perineum for feminine hygiene purposes".
J&J has successfully overturned talc verdicts in the past, with appeals courts pointing to a 2017 decision by the US Supreme Court that limits where personal injury lawsuits can be filed.
The verdict marked the sixth-largest award related to product defects in USA history, Bloomberg reported.
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