St. Louis Jury Awards $4.69 Billion to 22 Women Who Developed Ovarian Cancer After Using Baby Powder Containing Asbestos
This month, a St. Louis jury awarded a $4.69 billion dollar verdict against Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of the iconic baby powder used by millions. Resulting in the sixth-largest products liability verdict in history, the 22 plaintiffs alleged that the popular baby powder, made of talc, contained microscopic fibers of asbestos that entered the body when inhaled or applied to the genital area. Expert testimony proved that once in the body, the asbestos led to ovarian cancer that required extensive medical treatment and in some cases, claimed the lives of women who had been using baby powder every day for years.
The women who filed suit, or in some cases their surviving family members, were able to prove not only that the talcum powder contained cancer-causing asbestos, but also that Johnson and Johnson was aware of this fact for decades but failed to warn consumers. This trial was the first to test the connection between baby powder and ovarian cancer in a courtroom, and the historic verdict was intended to send a message to large corporations like Johnson and Johnson that put profit before consumer safety. Lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Mark Lanier, said that “For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products . . . If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning.”
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In addition to awarding each woman who developed cancer $25 million in damages, the jury also awarded $3.15 billion in punitive damages as a deterrent to Johnson and Johnson. The plaintiffs each told a similar story of painful radiation and chemotherapy, extensive surgeries, and sometimes losing the battle with cancer. With the knowledge that Johnson and Johnson knew its product contained asbestos but failed to warn consumers, one juror who did not want to be named said that the jury arrived at the $3.15 billion dollar figure by multiplying the yearly sales of talc powder by 40, the approximate number of years the corporation claimed that its baby powder did not contain asbestos.
Following the verdict, Johnson and Johnson issued a statement and continued to deny that its product contained cancer-causing asbestos. The company claimed that the trial contained multiple errors and vowed to challenge the verdict on the grounds that the Missouri state court did not have jurisdiction over all the plaintiffs and the punitive damage award was unjustly high. While this case is certain to be reviewed on appeal, in the eyes of consumers the damage may already be done. One juror claimed that the first thing she did as soon as she got her cell phone back after the trial was to post “Do not buy” as a warning on her Facebook page.