Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7bn damages in talc cancer case

Plaintiff Gail Ingham foreground stands outside the civil courthouse with attorneys Lee Cirsch Eric Holland and Mark Lanier. A jury awarded nearly $US4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families who claimed asbestos in Johnso

It follows a six-week trial in the U.S. where Johnson & Johnson, one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies, has been ordered to pay £3.6bn in damages to 22 women who alleged that its talcum products caused them to develop the disease. Sadly, six of the 22 plaintiffs have died from ovarian cancer.

However, Mark Lanier, a lawyer for the women suing, said both the agency and the company used flawed testing methods, preventing them from detecting the possible presence of asbestos fibers.

The plaintiff's lawyer stated that J&J should pull their baby powder from the shelves "before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a bad disease".

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples, including J&J, from 2009 to 2010.

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The company plans to appeal over the verdict. This was the first trial to argue that talc in baby powder contains cancer-causing asbestos.

The jury reached a unanimous verdict yesterday to award compensatory damages for 22 plaintiffs that averaged US$25 million apiece.

Johnson & Johnson called the verdict the result of an unfair process that allowed the women to sue the company in Missouri despite a lot of them not living in the state and said it would appeal, as it has in previous cases that found for women who sued the company.

Their lawsuit claimed the asbestos in the product contributed to the women's ovarian cancer.

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Johnson & Johnson denied any contamination with asbestos or any rigged testing.

Under the Supreme Court guidelines the $4 billion punitive award in St. Louis would likely be considered "excessive", said Anthony Sabino, law professor at St. John's University in NY.

But Johnson & Johnson said in its statement that the trial was "a fundamentally unfair process", noting most of the women were not from Missouri, where the testimonies were heard. They allege the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos since at least the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks.

"I hope they focus their appeal on jurisdiction because I'm confident we'll win that", Lanier said. Co-counsel Eric D. Holland of the Holland Law Firm in St. Louis, Missouri, was also integrally involved in the trial.

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Following Thursday's ruling, the women's lawyer said that the case led to the first talc- and asbestos-included ovarian cancer verdict in the United States. But no major study has examined how talc might cause cancer, only if there is an elevated risk associated with its use. Mineral traces in the talc aren't proof of asbestos contamination, Bicks said. Two of those plaintiffs' verdicts, one for US$72 million and the other for US$55 million, have been erased on appeal on jurisdictional grounds. For example, Colgate Palmolive faces 199 suits involving the Cashmere Bouquet powder it marketed until 1996, according to its latest quarterly report. Others are from Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

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