Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion damages in cancer case

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The jury awarded $550 million and later added $4.14 billion in punitive damages against the company for allegedly failing to warn that its talcum powder raised the risk of ovarian cancer, after a six-week trial. The women claim that either the talc caused ovarian cancer or that the product's talc led to mesothelioma.

"Johnson & Johnson is deeply disappointed in the verdict, which was the product of a fundamentally unfair process", it said in a statement. Goodrich predicted the verdict would be reversed.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Mark Lanier (left), said that Johnson & Johnson knew asbestos was in their products.

The shares of the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company dropped 1.4 per cent in late trading after closing at USUS$127.76 in NY.

Days before the start of the trial, J&J's talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, Inc., reached an out of court settlement with the plaintiffs, leaving J&J and its Johnson & Johnson Consumer Cos., Inc. subsidiary as the lone defendants. Imerys Talc America settled before trial on confidential terms. In St. Louis, jurors have ordered the company to pay $55 million, $70 million, $72 million and $110 million.

The company said its talc does not contain asbestos or cause ovarian cancer, and vowed it would 'pursue all available appellate remedies'. Plaintiffs claimed that through years of routine use of talc powders for feminine hygiene, talc particles had migrated through the genital tract to the ovaries, causing inflammation that resulted in cancer. The company said plaintiffs' tests showing asbestos contamination were "junk science".

J&J denied any contamination with asbestos or any rigged testing. The accusations of suppressing or ignoring tests didn't make sense, said Peter Bicks, the company's trial counsel.

In a statement responding to the verdict, J&J reiterated its position that its products never contained asbestos and were not carcinogenic. "Why all the testing?" However, there are questions about whether asbestos-free talc, which is the form used in modern products, poses a similar risk, according to the association. These fibers aren't asbestos but harmless mineral fragments, he said. Roberts was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014. Her cancer is now in remission after months of "brutal" chemotherapy.

Roberts has two children and two grandchildren, with a third due in December.

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"I hope they focus their appeal on jurisdiction because I'm confident we'll win that", Lanier said.

The payout comprises $US550 million in compensatory damages and $US4.14 billion in punitive damages.

He faulted J&J's defense regarding asbestos. "More research is needed to work out what role, if any, talc use plays in ovarian cancer".

At one point during deliberations, the jury asked the judge for magic markers and ice-cream sandwiches. J&J sold the product to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.in 2012. For example, Colgate Palmolive faces 199 suits involving the Cashmere Bouquet powder it marketed until 1996, according to its latest quarterly report. Others are from Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Several of the women are deceased, and family members carried on their lawsuits.

It is highly unlikely the plaintiffs will keep an amount anywhere close to judgment award. But this one is a really big one. It also was the first trial in which a jury ruled on talc- and asbestos-induced ovarian cancer. The company has faced legal challenges on the same issue before, which it is still appealing or contesting. The previous highest damages ruling was for $417 million, in August a year ago.

The lawyer for the 22 women in this most recent case said in a statement following the ruling that Johnson & Johnson should pull its product "before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a awful disease".

"Given evidence is inconsistent we do advocate a "better safe than sorry" attitude and advise that women using talc on their genitals stop doing so". A SC jury couldn't reach a verdict on similar claims in the same week as the California verdict. Johnson & Johnson is now battling around 9000 talc cases. Plus, many appeals courts cut back punitive damages awards on appeal. In other cases, the justices have upheld a punishment award four times larger than compensatory damages.

The verdict marked the sixth-largest award related to product defects in USA history, Bloomberg reported. This was the first talc case to go to trial in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. "J&J has a good shot at knocking it down".

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