By Tina Bellon
A Missouri jury on Thursday ordered Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N to pay $550 million to 22 women who alleged the company's talc-based products, including its baby powder, contain asbestos and caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
The verdict is the largest J&J has faced to date over allegations that its talc-based products cause cancer. J&J is battling some 9,000 talc cases.
Thursday's verdict so far only includes compensatory damages, but the jury, which deliberated less than a day, also unanimously decided to award punitive damages. Those will be determined during a second stage of the trial in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network.
The jury's decision followed more than five weeks of testimony by nearly a dozen experts on both sides.
The women and their families said decades-long use of Baby Powder and other cosmetic talc products caused their diseases. They allege the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos since at least the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks.
J&J denies both that its talc products cause cancer and that they ever contained asbestos. It says decades of studies show its talc to be safe.
"While we are disappointed with this decision, the jury has further deliberations to conduct in this trial and we will reserve additional comment until the case is fully completed," J&J said in a statement.
Mark Lanier, the lawyer for the women, in a statement following the verdict called on J&J to pull its talc products from the market "before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease."
"If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning," Lanier said.
The majority of the lawsuits that J&J faces involve claims that talc itself caused ovarian cancer, but a smaller number of cases allege that contaminated talc caused mesothelioma, a tissue cancer closely linked to asbestos exposure. (Full Story)
The cases that went to trial in St. Louis effectively combine those claims by alleging asbsestos-contaminated talc caused ovarian cancer.
Previous talc trials have produced verdicts as large as $417 million. But that 2017 verdict by a California jury, as well as other verdicts in Missouri, was overturned on appeal, and challenges to at least another five verdicts are pending.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioned a study of various talc samples from 2009 to 2010, including of J&J's Baby Powder. No asbestos was found in any of the talc samples, the agency said.
But Lanier during the trial told jurors that the agency and other laboratories and J&J have used flawed testing methods that did not allow for the proper detection of asbestos fibers.
Talc, the world's softest rock, is a mineral closely linked to asbestos and the two substances can appear in close proximity in the earth.
Plaintiffs claim the two can become intermingled in the mining process, making it impossible to remove the carcinogenic substance. J&J denies those allegations, saying rigorous testing and purification processes ensure its talc is clean.