A St. Louis jury has reached a multi-billion-dollar verdict in a talc ovarian cancer lawsuit while simultaneously finding that it was asbestos in that talc that led to the onset of the plaintiffs’ cancer.
The verdict impacted the trading price of the world’s largest health care goods manufacturer, sending the stock down almost a full percentage point in the aftermath. The 22 plaintiffs in the case were awarded $4.69 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages when the jury found Johnson & Johnson responsible for the cancer that has shortened, and in some cases, already ended some of their lives.
J&J’s talc supplier Imerys was also initially named in the lawsuit but settled claims against it for an amount that was confidential but said to be over $5 million by those knowledgeable of the terms. The settlement effectively cleared Imerys of any other claims in the lawsuit brought by the 22 plaintiffs and left Johnson & Johnson to bear the brunt of the full force of the jury’s verdict.
The verdict is striking not only because of the amount of the award but because it specifically names asbestos in the talc as the agent that caused the women to develop ovarian cancer. The plaintiffs’ argued during the trial that Johnson & Johnson officials were aware that their products contained asbestos and actively worked to keep that information out of the public eye. In addition, allegations were made that the company “rigged” tests it used to show that the company’s talc was free of asbestos and would only cite test results from labs that produced the results they wanted to see. Results that verified the presence of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talc products never saw the light of day.
As has been the case in the past, the company vehemently denies the accusations and stood behind its talc, its products, and its testing, claiming that the fibers found in its talc were not asbestos fibers but were “harmless mineral fragments.” The company “hired the best labs in the country year after year after year” according to its trial lawyer who then rhetorically asked why J&J would repeatedly go to such great lengths to ensure the safety of its product.
While asbestos-containing talc has been the subject of baby powder-associated mesothelioma lawsuits in the past, and thousands of lawsuits allege a talc link to ovarian cancer, this verdict is the first to unequivocally state that it was asbestos in the talc which caused the victims’ ovarian cancer as well. And, while Johnson & Johnson executives continue to put on a brave face for the media and general public, concern is growing among investors over just how deep this particular rabbit hole might actually go.