J&J Slumps on $4.7 Billion Award to Cancer Patients

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A St. Louis jury has awarded almost $4.7 billion in damages to 22 women and their families after they claimed asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder caused their ovarian cancer.

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.

If a test showed the presence of asbestos, Johnson & Johnson sent it to a lab the company knew would produce different results, he told the jurors.

"For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products", said Mark Lanier, lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs. Six out of the 22 women represented in court have succumbed to ovarian cancer.

The jury is considering punitive damages against the company for failing to warn about cancer risk, according to a press release.

"If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning", Lanier said.

J&J said it was "deeply disappointed" and plans to appeal.

Ingham, who used baby powder for decades, said she joined the lawsuit because women who use baby powder 'need to know what's in there.

During Wednesday's closings, Orrick's Peter Bicks walked jurors through studies he said proved the company's talc was asbestos-free.

Johnson & Johnson denied that its talc products cause cancer and that they ever contained asbestos.

The verdict is the largest J&J has faced to date over allegations that its talc-based products cause cancer.

A separate but related set of lawsuits suggest Johnson & Johnson's powder is contaminated with asbestos.

He said the $4.14 billion in punitive damages was derived from a formula that included the annual revenue from baby powder ($70 million) along with the number of years talc has been an issue. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from states that include Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas. The company is facing more than 9,000 plaintiffs in cases involving body powders with talc, according to a regulatory document filed this spring. A separate plaintiffs' award, for $417 million by a Los Angeles jury in August, was reversed by the trial judge who decided evidence didn't support the verdict.

The jury's decision that J&J's baby powder caused ovarian cancer could be more significant in the long-run then the large payout, as its stock dropped 1.4% after Thursday's verdict against its renowned product. Several other legal challenges by J&J are pending.