Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $4.7B in ovarian cancer suit

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A jury in Missouri, United States, ordered multinational pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion (Rs 32,169 crore) in damages to 22 women who claimed they had developed ovarian cancer after using the company's talc products, BBC reported on Friday.

If a test showed the presence of asbestos, Johnson & Johnson sent it to a lab the company knew would produce different results, he told the jurors. This was the first trial to argue that talc in baby powder contains cancer-causing asbestos. The award was earmarked for 22 women and their families who claimed Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products also contained asbestos.

"If there were a link, any increase in risk would be fairly small, and as ovarian cancer is a relatively rare disease, overall women who use talc would still have a low chance of developing the disease".

The jury has yet to decide on punitive damages. "If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning".

J&J in a statement called the trial "fundamentally unfair" and said it would appeal the decision.

Bottles of Johnson & Johnson baby powder line a drugstore shelf in New York October 15, 2015.

"Yes, this is bad", Bicks said of the women's cancer.

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"For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products", Lanier said in a press release issued immediately following the verdict. Two of those plaintiffs' verdicts, one for US$72 million and the other for US$55 million, have been erased on appeal on jurisdictional grounds.

The talc wasn't harmless, plaintiff Toni Roberts, 61, said in an interview after the verdict.

J&J denied any contamination with asbestos or any rigged testing. Divan writes that despite the eye-catching headlines, in the majority of the talc lawsuits (more than 9,000 as of the first quarter), which have produced higher damage awards, the company has been able to overturn most of the unfavorable rulings.

As this blog post points out, Johnson & Johnson has been hit with some million-dollar punitive damages awards in other talcum powder cases.

"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. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas. "But sympathy aside, the plaintiffs have not come anywhere close to proving their case". However asbestos, which can contaminate talc if not carefully extracted or purified, is a carcinogen. The U.S. Supreme Court has said such punishment awards must be proportional to compensatory damage verdicts that underlie them.

The case is Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, 1522-CC10417, Circuit Court, City of St. Louis, Missouri.

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