A jury has awarded a record $4.7 billion (£3.6 billion) damages to 22 women and their families who alleged that Johnson & Johnson talcum powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
Medical experts claimed during the trial that asbestos was intermingled with mineral talc, which is the main ingredient in J&J’s signature Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products.
The pharmaceuticals giant denied there was any of the carcinogen in its products and said it planned to appeal.
The women said they had used baby powder and other talc products for decades. Six of the 22 have died from ovarian cancer. Lawyers said asbestos fibres and talc particles were found in the ovarian tissues of many of them. After the six-week trial in St Louis, Missouri, the jury awarded $4.1 billion (£3.2 billion) in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson in addition to $550 million (£400,000) in compensation.
Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the women, said J&J had covered up evidence of asbestos in their products for more than 40 years. Mineral talc can sometimes be found in the ground close to asbestos. Mr Lanier told the jury the firm “rigged” tests to avoid showing its presence. If a test did show asbestos, J&J sent it to a lab the company knew would produce different results, he alleged.
“We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and will lead them to better inform the medical community and public about the connection between asbestos, talc and ovarian cancer,” he added.
“The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease.” Gail Ingham, 73, of O’Fallon, Missouri, told The St Louis Post-Dispatch she used baby powder for decades and was diagnosed with stage-3 ovarian cancer in 1985.
She had chemotherapy and surgery before being declared cancer-free. She said women who use the product “need to know what’s in there. Women need to know because they’re putting it on their babies.”
J&J has been sued by over 9,000 wo-men who say its talcum powder contributed to cancer. Its spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said J&J “remains confident its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer and intends to pursue all available appellate remedies.” The firm denied rigging tests. She claimed the evidence had been overwhelmed by prejudice created when so many plaintiffs are allowed to sue in one lawsuit: “Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed.”
On its UK website, J&J said: “Decades of safety reviews ... have shown cosmetic talc is safe to use with no proven causal link to cancer.” The US Food and Drug Administration commissioned a study of talc samples, including from J&J, from 2009 to 2010. It found no asbestos.
In 2017, a California jury awarded £417 million (£323.4 million) to a woman who said she developed ovarian cancer after using J&J products including baby powder. The verdict was later overturned. Several other legal challenges are yet to be decided.