A Missouri appeals court on Tuesday ordered Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary to pay $2.1 billion in damages to women who blamed their ovarian cancer on the company’s talcum products, including its iconic baby powder.
The decision slashed by more than half a record award of $4.69 billion in compensatory and punitive damages to the women, which was made in July 2018.
Johnson & Johnson still faces thousands of lawsuits from consumers who claim its talcum products were contaminated with asbestos that caused cancer. The company announced last month that it would stop selling baby powder made from talc in North America, though it was continuing to market the product elsewhere in the world.
A spokeswoman said Johnson & Johnson would seek further review of the ruling by the Supreme Court of Missouri and defended its talcum products as safe.
“We continue to believe this was a fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” Kim Montagnino said. “We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free and does not cause cancer.”
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Mark Lanier, the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, urged consumers to discard any baby powder they may have in their homes. Five of the plaintiffs who pursued the case have died since the jury trial ended in 2018, he said.
Since this is a civil suit, “all you can do is fine them, and we need to fine them sufficiently that the industry wakes up and takes notice,” Mr. Lanier added.
In its decision, the appellate court noted that the company’s internal memorandums from as far back as the 1960s indicated that its talcum products — referred to as the “golden egg,” “company trust-mark” and “sacred cow” — contained asbestos, and that the mineral could be dangerous.
“A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their products caused ovarian cancer,” the court said.
The plaintiffs “showed clear and convincing evidence defendants engaged in conduct that was outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference.”
The court awarded $500 million in actual damages and $1.62 billion in punitive damages, reducing the original award of $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages after dismissing claims by some of the plaintiffs.