It was the sixth largest financial award in the history of the country’s legal system. And while it has been cut in half by a Missouri appeals court, its implications for ongoing talc litigation are significant.
When a St. Louis jury awarded 22 women over $4.5 billion after finding that asbestos present in Johnson & Johnson talc-based hygiene products like Shower to Shower was responsible for their development of ovarian cancer, the verdict sent shockwaves through the world’s largest healthcare goods manufacturer. The corporation promised a swift appeal while going back to its all too familiar refrain that its products do not contain asbestos nor cause cancer, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.
The results of that appeal are in and they aren’t good for J&J. While the punitive part of the award was cut significantly – a reduction of approxi¬mately $2.4 billion – the compensatory damages stood for all but two of the women, as did the verdict itself holding the company responsible for the plaintiffs’ cancers. In fact, the appeals court judges wrote that they found “significant reprehensibility” in the way Johnson & Johnson has conducted itself in its handling of the issue of asbestos in its talc powder. Their admonishment came with several citations of now-known facts that include a failure to avoid “adopting more accurate measures for detecting asbestos,” as well as a variety of internal records that show discussion among J&J executives specifically about the asbestos risk present in talc powder.
J&J plans to appeal the remainder of the verdict to the Supreme Court of Missouri citing a “faulty presentation of the facts.” The facts, however, are seeming like less and less of something that the corporation might want to lean on. Since the talc asbestos issue came to light, “the facts” have embroiled a company that once shaped its public persona around trustworthiness and wholesomeness for generations in what might be one of the most sinister examples of corporate wrongdoing of the 21st century.