Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7bn damages in talc cancer case

Johnson & Johnson must shell out $4.7B after baby powder tainted with asbestos blamed for causing cancer

Johnson & Johnson must shell out $4.7B after baby powder tainted with asbestos blamed for causing cancer

Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a jury to pay $4.69 billion to women who claimed asbestos in the company's talc products caused them to develop ovarian cancer, marking the sixth-largest product-defect verdict in US history.

The jury has initially awarded $550 million in compensation and added $4.1 billion in punitive damages. The company is facing more than 9,000 plaintiffs in cases involving body powders with talc, according to a regulatory document filed this spring.

The women claimed their ovarian cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos allegedly found in the baby powder. The company said it remained confident that its products do not contain asbestos or cause cancer.

The verdict is the largest trial award by far in a host of suits claiming the company's signature Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products cause cancer.

The landmark trial is the first of its kind concerning claims that asbestos in J&J's talc causes ovarian cancer.

The women and their families allege J&J knew its talc contained asbestos since the 1970s.

"The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a awful disease", he added.

Lanier, the plaintiff's lawyer told jurors in his closing arguments that the company knew its products were contaminated with asbestos but wanted to protect the baby powder which was "their sacred cow".

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The company said it was "deeply disappointed" with the verdict and plans to appeal because of a "fundamentally unfair process", The Wall Street Journal reported.

The plaintiffs argued that Johnson & Johnson covered up knowledge of asbestos in its talcum powder products for some 40 years instead of including that information on a warning label. However, Johnson & Johnson denies asbestos features in its own products.

"The result of the verdict, which awarded the exact same amounts to all plaintiffs irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable law, reflects that the evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding", the company said in a statement on Thursday.

As the verdict was read in court, the first eight of 22 plaintiffs were each awarded US$25-million - and damages were still being announced for the other 14 plaintiffs. However, there are experts who are still concerned about the safety of talc today, despite new asbestos-free formulas.

The US Food and Drug Administration had commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples, including J&J, from 2009 to 2010. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from states that include Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas. But this one is a really big one.

They say that all of their products undergo rigorous testing and purification to ensure that their product is clean and safe to use.

Punitive damages are often reduced by the trial judge or on appeal, and J&J has succeeded in having several jury verdicts overturned, some of them on technical grounds.

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