J&J ordered to pay $4.7 billion to women after claims its products gave them cancer

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Mike Segar/Reuters

  • Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $4.69 billion to women who said its baby-powder product gave them ovarian cancer, following a jury ruling on Thursday.
  • The St. Louis city court decision is the sixth-largest product-defect award in US history and could open up long-term problems for J&J.
  • The company, whose shares fell 1.4% after the verdict on Thursday, plans to appeal the ruling.

The Fortune 500 company Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $4.69 billion to women who argued in court that its talc products contained asbestos and caused them to develop ovarian cancer, Bloomberg reports.

The St. Louis city court verdict is the sixth-largest product-defect award in US history, ordering $4.14 billion in punitive damages on top of $550 million designed to compensate the 22 women and their families.

The jury’s decision that J&J’s baby powder caused ovarian cancer could be more significant in the long run than this particular payout, however, and the company’s stock dropped 1.4% after Thursday’s verdict.

“This was a new theory, and the jury lined up behind it,” Jean Eggen, a Widener University law professor who teaches about mass-tort cases, told Bloomberg. “That may be a harbinger of things to come, and there are many more ovarian-cancer cases than asbestos cases tied to the powder.”

The case is linked to more than 9,000 claims that the company’s products are linked to ovarian cancer. Imerys SA, the company that supplied the powder, was also sued and settled the claim for $5 million.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer told jurors in his closing arguments that the company knew its products were contaminated with asbestos but wanted to protect “their sacred cow,” the baby powder.

The lawyer said that the company “rigged” tests and that if one test showed asbestos was present, the samples would be sent to another lab that J&J knew would find different results.

J&J denied the argument, saying it didn’t make sense for the company to do extensive testing and still allow the product to be harmful. The company’s lawyer said J&J used the best labs for testing and would appeal the jury’s decision.

Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokeswoman, told Bloomberg the verdict “was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer.”