Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect a $4.14 billion punitive verdict in the case.
This is a developing story, and updates will be added as events warrant.
St. Louis—Jurors Thursday slammed Johnson & Johnson with a $4.69 billion verdict, including more than $4.1 billion in punitives, for the role they concluded the company played in the ovarian cancer 22 women developed after years of using its talc-based products. Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, 1522-CC10417.
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.
Mark Lanier, in opening statements, claims J&J "rigged" asbestos tests of its talc.
During Wednesday’s closings of the trial's first phase, plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Lanier did not request a specific damage award but urged jurors to write their figures “in big letters. Let them read it without putting on their glasses.”
The state court jury, in Missouri’s 22nd Judicial Circuit, deliberated for 8 hours before concluding Thursday that asbestos in the J&J products caused the women’s ovarian cancer and awarding $550 million in compensatory damages on the claims.
After a brief punitive phase Thursday afternoon, jurors deliberated for about 30 minutes before handing down their $4.14 billion punitive award.
The verdict capped a six-week-long trial focusing largely on whether J&J’s talc contained asbestos and the company’s conduct surrounding testing for the presence of the cancer-causing mineral.
The defense contended that claims linking asbestos to J&J’s talc-based products are part of a lawyer-driven argument that lacked strong scientific support and that the women developed ovarian cancer for other reasons.
During Wednesday’s closings, Orrick’s Peter Bicks walked jurors through studies he said proved the company’s talc was asbestos-free. “With all of this independent testing, there’s some massive conspiracy going on at Johnson & Johnson to expose babies to asbestos?” Bicks asked. “Does that make common sense, when Johnson & Johnson is doing all this testing?”
But Lanier argued J&J traded on the reputation of its baby powder as a source of comfort, all while rigging tests over decades to conceal cancer-causing asbestos the company knew was in its talc. On Thursday, Lanier highlighted results he said showed asbestos both in talc mines and the baby powder itself. Lanier said J&J responded to these results by deleting findings, and “manipulating” federal agencies such as the FDA. “It’s outrageous the games and the tricks that they would go to,” Lanier said.
The landmark trial is the first of its kind concerning claims that asbestos in J&J’s talc causes ovarian cancer. Previous talc-cancer trials have focused on claims that the talc itself, rather than asbestos, causes ovarian cancer, or that asbestos in talc causes mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer.
To place the size of Thursday's verdict in perspective, the award would equal about 6.1% of the multi-national company's roughly $76.5 billion in 2017 reported revenue.
The company currently faces about 9,000 talc-cancer cases in state and federal court, according to published reports, with the bulk of state court cases in Missouri, New Jersey, and California, according to J&J's May 2018 quarterly report.
"For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products,” Lanier said in a press release issued immediately following the verdict. “We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer. The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease."
After the verdict, J&J issued a statement calling the jury's decision the product of a "fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer."
J&J's statement reiterated its contention that its talc is asbestos-free and promised to challenge the decision. "Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed," the statement read, "and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials, which have been reversed.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The plaintiffs are represented by The Lanier Law Firm’s Mark Lanier.
Johnson & Johnson is represented by Orrick’s Peter Bicks, Morton Dubin, and Lisa Simpson; Dykema’s Jane Bockus; Gordon & Rees’ Kenneth Ferguson
The trial is one of many proceedings CVN has recorded in Missouri, California, and South Carolina state courts as part of its extensive talc litigation coverage.
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