Appellate court upholds large punitive damage award against Johnson & Johnson

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The Missouri Court of Appeals ordered Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary to pay $2.1 billion in damages to women who contracted ovarian cancers caused by Johnson & Johnson talcum powder. This was reduced from a $4.69 billion St. Louis jury verdict. The Court held: “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 Court held that the plaintiffs “showed clear and convincing evidence defendants engaged in conduct that was outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference…” The Court noted that Johnson & Johnson internal memorandums from as far back as the 1960s indicated that its talcum products, which it referred to as the “golden egg,” and “company trust-mark”, contained asbestos.

This is the largest award upheld by an appellate court to date against Johnson & Johnson. The company announced last month that it would stop selling baby powder made from talc in North America, though it would continue to market the product elsewhere in the world.

Talc and asbestos are minerals which develop underground. Underground asbestos deposits may cross talc deposits in mines. Earlier lawsuits claimed that talc itself caused cancer but plaintiffs have shifted their arguments now attributing cancer to trace amounts of asbestos which contaminate talc.

For decades there has been evidence of trace amounts of asbestos in talc. This prompted Johnson & Johnson to develop an alternative powder made from cornstarch, but continued to manufacture and sell talcum powder for decades thereafter.

Johnson & Johnson internal memos revealed its awareness and concern about asbestos in its talc for at least 50 years.

Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder in 2019 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discovered asbestos in a bottle of its talc.

Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP represents women who contracted ovarian cancer from talc products.

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