Following a five-week-long trial, a St. Louis jury recently awarded a verdict of $4.7 billion against talcum powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. The award included $25 million for each of 22 women (or their surviving family members) who claimed to have developed ovarian cancer as a direct result of using the company’s baby powder for throughout their lifetimes.
Included in the verdict were $4.14 billion in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson itself as well as subsidiary company Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc.
Unlike prior cases against J&J alleging its talcum powder caused ovarian cancer, this case had a different theory of liability. In previous cases, plaintiffs had (successfully, for the most part) argued that the talc itself traveled to the ovaries via the fallopian tubes and caused cancer. In this case, plaintiffs argued that it wasn’t the talc itself to blame, but asbestos contained within the talc that was the true culprit.
Documents released as part of the trial indicate Johnson & Johnson was aware of the potential risks of asbestos-contaminated talc as far back as 1971. That lengthy span of time is likely part of the reason that the verdict – particularly the punitive damages portion – was so substantial.
This verdict will almost certainly be subject to appeal. But the jury award could prove to be a turning point in the way these talcum powder cancer cases are argued in the future.