ST. LOUIS – Jurors on July 12 dealt Johnson & Johnson a body-blow, levying a total $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages to 22 women who claimed its talcum powder contained asbestos that caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
The award handed down in St. Louis City Circuit Court was the biggest in a recent series of approximately 9,000 cases across the country against Johnson & Jonson in state and federal courts for the baby powder it has produced going back 110 years, and a more recent powder product for adults called Shower to Shower.
The trial was streamed courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
The clerk of the court read off different damage awards for the plaintiffs. Among the plaintiffs, Krystal Kim received $25 million, Sheila Brooks, $25 million, Stephanie Martin $12,500,000, Toni Roberts, $25 million and Laine Goldman $25 million for the loss of his wife Johanna, who died of ovarian cancer last year.
The court found that Johnson & Johnson was liable for massive punitive damages to punish the company for its negligence.
It took the jury eight hours to deliberate. Six of the original 22 women died before the start of the trial on June 6.
The trial and judgment are the first time a court has awarded damages for alleged asbestos in talc. Numerous other trials in past months have focused on allegations that talc alone caused the cancer, or mesothelioma.
The survival rate for stage III ovarian cancer was reported to be 30 percent, 10 percent for stage IV, during testimony in the four-week trial. Mesothelioma is a terminal disease with a zero survival rate.
At outset of the trial, Mark Lanier, a Houston-based attorney for the plaintiffs, sought to undermine the credibility of defense witnesses testifying for Johnson & Johnson portraying them as highly paid hirelings for the company who cherry-picked studies that denied asbestos in baby powder and ignored studies that warned of the dangers.
Lanier made a central issue of technology he said developed in the 1970s and was being used by the Colorado School of Mines called “pre-concentration,” or greater pre-screening of trace minerals before major testing of talc powder. Lanier said Johnson & Johnson had deliberately avoided using the more stringent testing method because company personnel were concerned over what they would find.
During the trial, the plaintiffs cited findings linking talc powder and asbestos to ovarian cancer by a number of noted scientists including Dr. William Longo, a nationally known materials scientist and microscope researcher, and Jacqueline Moline, a New York-based occupational medical specialist and a professor of epidemiology.
Lanier said the company's baby powder product had developed a trust factor over the years with customers because it was used on babies to the point the multi-national corporation considered the baby powder, a small part of its operation, to be a “golden egg.”
“There’s trust built into it (baby powder),” Lanier told the jury. “Johnson & Johnson was the company we trust. Mothers, 450 million of them, will associate that fragrance and everybody will with infancy. There’s an emotional connection.”
Talc is a mined mineral. Lanier said Johnson & Johnson owned its own talc mines in past years located in the state of Vermont but more recently overseas in China.
“They (J&J) had an economic motive not to use safer corn starch,” Lanier said.
The defense consisted of a trio of lawyers for the New York-based law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe led by Peter Bicks, Morton Dubin and Lisa Simpson.
Bicks and his co-attorneys brought in gynecological oncologists such as Dr. Kevin Holcomb and Warner Huh who testified there was no relationship between the use of talc powder and ovarian cancer. In addition, Bicks contended the women had seen television advertising which convinced them their ovarian cancer had been caused by the use of talc.
Bicks and his team of attorneys sought to convince the jury that the women had gotten the disease because they were pre-disposed to it, inherited through family histories of cancer and cases of mutant genes - unrelated to talc powder use.
The jury thought otherwise.
After the verdict, Johnson & Johnson issued a statement calling the judgment unfair and pledged to challenge the verdict, according to a Courtroom View Network report.
“Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed,” the statement read. “The multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trial, which have been reversed.”
Spokesmen for the company continued to maintain there is no asbestos in their baby powder product.
The trial was presided over by Circuit Judge Rex Burlson, who has presided over other multi-million jury verdicts against the company.