Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $4.7bn over asbestos talc cancer claims

Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay nearly $4.7bn (£3.58bn) in damages to 22 women who claim the company’s talcum powder contributed to them developing ovarian cancer, the Guardian has reported.

Mark Lanier, the lead counsel for the women, six of whom have died from ovarian cancer, said Johnson & Johnson had covered up evidence of asbestos in its products for more than 40 years.

After a six-week trial at a court in St Louis, a jury awarded the women $4.14bn in punitive damages and $550m in compensatory damages.

Medical experts testified during the trial that asbestos, a known carcinogen, is mixed in with mineral talc, which is the primary ingredient in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products.

Lawyers said asbestos fibres and talc particles were found in the ovarian tissues of many of the women.  Lanier said:

The company said it was deeply disappointed with the verdict, saying it was part of a “fundamentally unfair process” that grouped the women together and awarded them the same amount despite differences in their cases. It said it intended to appeal.  Said J&J in a statement;

“The evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding. Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer. Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed.”

The women’s health charity Ovacome has a fact sheet on the issue. It said some studies had shown a link between use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer but more research was needed as “there was no consistent evidence to prove that the more you use talc, the greater your risk of ovarian cancer”.