Bottles of Johnson & Johnson baby powder line a drugstore shelf in New York. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON
Bottles of Johnson & Johnson baby powder line a drugstore shelf in New York. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON

Washington — On Thursday, US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) was ordered to pay $4.69bn in damages in a lawsuit representing 22 women and their families, who said talc sold by the company contained asbestos and caused them to suffer cancer.

It is the latest twist in a matter that has seen several thousand lawsuits filed against J&J.

According to the victims’ lawyer, Mark Lanier, a jury composed of six men and six women in St Louis, Missouri, ruled in favour of the women after a six-week trial and eight hours of deliberation. The damages include $550m in compensation and more than $4.1bn in punitive damages.

The plaintiffs said using the talc for personal hygiene had caused ovarian cancer.

"For over 40 years, J&J has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products," Lanier said in a statement.

"We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc and ovarian cancer," he said, calling for talc to be pulled from the market.

J&J said it was "deeply disappointed in the verdict." In a statement, it described the trial as "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".

"The result of the verdict, which awarded the exact same amounts to all plaintiffs irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable law, reflects that the evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding."

The company said its talc did not contain asbestos or cause ovarian cancer, and vowed it would "pursue all available appellate remedies".

Several similar trials have already taken place, with a Los Angeles appeals court dismissing a $417m verdict against J&J in October 2017, saying the complainant’s arguments were insufficient and vague.


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