A United States court's jury in St Louis, Missouri, ordered Johnson & Johnson, on Thursday, to pay damages of up to Dollars 4.69 billion to 22 women who claimed that asbestos present in the company's talcum powder was the reason for them developing ovarian cancer.
The jury earlier ordered J&J to pay them US$550 million in compensatory damages, bringing the total to US$4.69 billion.
Lanier told the jurors Wednesday that this case was the first where jurors saw documents showing that Johnson & Johnson knew its products contained asbestos and didn't warn consumers, the Post-Dispatch reported.
The women's legal team claimed that Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products have been laced with cancer-causing asbestos "for decades".
After the punitive damages were announced, plaintiffs, their family members and their lawyers gathered around the jurors, hugging them and thanking them. "That may be a harbinger of things to come and there are many more ovarian cancer cases than asbestos cases tied to the powder". After attorneys fees, the state of Missouri takes a whopping 50% of punitive damage awards and keeps the money for itself under this state law, which appears to apply to this type of punitive damage award.
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"Johnson & Johnson is deeply disappointed in the verdict, which was the product of a fundamentally unfair process", it said in a statement. The firm is embroiled in several cases against its trademark baby powder.
As per the report, the company released a statement saying it is confident that its products do not contain asbestos and hence does not contribute to ovarian cancer in any way.
The women's lead lawyer, Mark Lanier, said: "For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products". 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.
And according to the National Cancer Institute, claims that talc used for feminine hygiene purposes can be absorbed by the reproductive system and cause inflammation in the ovaries are not supported by "the weight of evidence".
Johnson & Johnson denied any contamination with asbestos or any rigged testing. The asbestos cases are part of more than 9,000 claims alleging that J&J's talc products cause cancer.
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The jury reached a unanimous verdict Thursday to award compensatory damages for 22 plaintiffs that averaged US$25 million apiece.
Companies also have been using asbestos-free talc in its products since 1970.
The women in the St Louis trial, whose jobs range from school bus driver to executive director of a job retraining programme, come from states across the country, including Pennsylvania, California, Arizona and NY.
It is highly unlikely the plaintiffs will keep an amount anywhere close to judgment award. A court in California ruled on a similar case against the cosmetics company a year ago, calling on it to pay $417 million. No asbestos was found in any of the talc samples, the agency said.
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