Johnson & Johnson told to pay nearly $4.7 billion in baby powder lawsuit

Johnson & Johnson must shell out $4.7B after baby powder tainted with asbestos blamed for causing cancer

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson must pay damages of $4.7 billion to a group of women who claim the company's talc products made them develop ovarian cancer, a court has ruled.

The verdict of a court in the USA state of Missouri follows an initial ruling, awarding 22 women compensation before adding a further $4.1 billion in punitive damages, the New York Times reported.

This latest ovarian cancer case, that was decided on Thursday, was one of the first times that lawyers successfully argued the Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talcum powder contained asbestos.

During closing arguments, Johnson & Johnson lawyer Peter Bicks said the company for years has exceeded industry standards in testing talcum powder for asbestos and cited several scientific studies and conclusions by U.S. government agencies that he said found the company's products didn't contain asbestos and were safe.

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".

Six of the women in the case have passed away and were represented at the trial by spouses and family members.

The jury has yet to decide on punitive damages.

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Johnson & Johnson called the ruling "fundamentally unfair" and has said it plans to appeal. "With all of this independent testing, there's some massive conspiracy going on at Johnson & Johnson to expose babies to asbestos?"

Target Ovarian Cancer said it was important to note that the increased risk was "very small". A Missouri appeals court tossed out a $55 million verdict in June citing jurisdictional issues.

The verdict is the largest J&J has faced to date over allegations that its talc-based products cause cancer. Bicks asked. "Does that make common sense, when Johnson & Johnson is doing all this testing?"

The company has been sued by more than 9,000 women who claim its talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas.

Asbestos fibers and talc particles were found in the ovarian tissues of numerous women, the plaintiffs' lawyers said. "But sympathy aside, the plaintiffs have not come anywhere close to proving their case".

As this blog post points out, Johnson & Johnson has been hit with some million-dollar punitive damages awards in other talcum powder cases. Several other legal challenges by J&J are pending.

J&J is also fighting a separate battle with plaintiffs who blame the company's talc products for their developing mesothelioma, a form of cancer generally found in the lungs, that is linked to asbestos exposure.

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