A mega-dollar punitive damages verdict was recently awarded in a mass tort targeting Johnson & Johnson (J & J), the iconic corporation that markets “baby powder” and, until 2012, Shower to Shower talcum powder.
A St. Louis jury deliberated for eight hours before handing down $4.69 billion to 22 women who say they used J & J’s powder for feminine hygiene and suffered ovarian cancer as a result. Six of the plaintiffs were deceased and represented by family members. The Missouri award included $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant for wrongdoing.
J & J will, of course, appeal the verdict, but their talcum powder troubles are far from over. There are thousands of similar lawsuits pending against the company, and, as of mid-2018, five other cases ended in favorable verdicts for the plaintiffs.
Recent lawsuits include a California case awarding $417 million and an Alabama verdict for $72 million. Two of the cases were overturned on appeal for jurisdictional reasons, which means the judge agreed with J & J that the trial took place in the wrong venue. The California plaintiff’s verdict was overturned, in part, because the judge questioned talc as the cause of the cancer.
Scientific experts have long had mixed opinions about the toxicity of talcum powder. In 1971, talc particles were found embedded in tumors found in the ovaries and cervical tissue of women who were long-time users of powder in the genital area. But, clinical studies have found conflicting results, and a clear connection between talc and cancer has not been firmly established. Because of this, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has refrained from adding talc to their list of known carcinogens.
Asbestos Claims and Mesothelioma
Some recently publicized lawsuits allege that J & J’s talc powder is contaminated with asbestos, which is a proven cancer-causing agent. Recent cases include a $117 million verdict for a New Jersey man who said he got mesothelioma (cancer affecting the lining of the lungs) after inhaling J & J’s talcum powder. Another California woman’s $25.75 million award came in response to her allegations that asbestos in talcum powder contributed to her mesothelioma.
Plaintiffs in these and the other cases claim that J & J has covered up evidence of inherent danger in their products and should put warning labels in place or discontinue distribution. The company continues to deny any toxicity in J & J baby powder and vows to appeal all unfavorable verdicts.
Juries Send Messages
Convincing evidence that elicits sympathy for an injured plaintiff will often lead to jaw-dropping verdict awards, and punitive verdicts seem to be growing every year. In a recent blog, we wrote about a Georgia case where jurors handed down a $1 billion verdict for a criminal attack by an apartment building security guard. This personal injury case also involved employment law issues of negligent hiring, training and supervision.
As always, if you are the victim of negligence or legal wrongdoing, don’t hesitate to seek justice. Contact Feldman Williams for a complimentary case assessment.