Baby powder has been in the news a lot lately. In fact, Johnson & Johnson is facing over 10,000 lawsuits related to its signature baby powder. One particular case, in Missouri, wrapped up July 12, 2018 with a jury awarding a massive $4.6 billion to 22 women who filed a class action lawsuit alleging the baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.
Asbestos in Talcum Powder
It’s been known for decades now that asbestos causes cancer. You’re probably far more familiar with asbestos as it relates to building insulation and mesothelioma, but asbestos is a natural mineral that can be found in everything from automotive parts to hair dryers, fertilizer, and yes, talc, and it can cause all types of cancers and other debilitating conditions. Talc is what is used to make talcum powder, the key ingredient in J&J’s baby powder for many years.
Allegations Against Johnson & Johnson
While Johnson & Johnson is facing numerous lawsuits alleging its baby powder causes cancer, the lawsuit in Missouri was the first to allege that the company’s baby powder contains asbestos, that the company was aware of that fact, and that it did nothing to mitigate the effects of the harmful mineral.
The 22 women who came together to file the class action lawsuit all suffered from ovarian cancer and, according to their attorney, many had talc particles and asbestos fibers in their ovarian tissue.
Juries in civil cases typically award two types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are those that are meant to reimburse a plaintiff for things like lost wages and pain and suffering. Punitive damages, however, are meant to punish the defendant for their wrongdoing. After a jury’s award, however, a judge has the right to reduce the amount of damages if he or she finds that they far outweigh the culpability of the defendant.
As you can imagine, Johnson & Johnson was hoping the judge would reduce the damages awarded by the jury. However, the judge in the case recently announced that the amount awarded by the jury would be upheld. The jury clearly felt that the evidence supported a $4.6 billion award and the judge agreed.
Johnson & Johnson almost certainly will appeal the verdict, and there is the possibility the appeals court could overturn the ruling. In fact, just recently in late June, a Missouri appeals court threw out a verdict in a very similar case against Johnson & Johnson where a jury awarded a woman $55 million. The appeals court ruled that because the woman lived in South Dakota and Johnson & Johnson is based in New Jersey, the case should not have been filed in Missouri. In this case, however, 5 of the 22 plaintiffs do live in Missouri.