$4.7 Billion Talcum Powder Verdict Upheld Despite Johnson & Johnson’s Motions; New Trial Denied

St. Louis City Circuit Court judge refused to grant Johnson & Johnson’s motions following the July 13, 2018 jury verdict of $4.7 billion against Johnson & Johnson for injuries suffered by 22 women. This verdict was the largest by far against Johnson & Johnson in cases against it brought by women who have claimed that ovarian cancer was caused by use of the baby powder. The St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison concluded in his opinion that there was “substantial evidence” to support the $550 million in compensatory damages and that punitive damages that totaled more than $4 billion were constitutional.

Judge Burlison added: “First, substantial evidence was adduced at trial of particularly reprehensible conduct on the part of defendants (Johnson & Johnson and others), including that defendants knew of the presence of asbestos in products that they knowingly targeted for sale to mothers and babies, knew of the damage their products caused, and misrepresented the safety of these products for decades.” The judge also said, “Second, defendants’ actions caused significant physical harm and potential physical harm, including causing ovarian cancer in plaintiffs or plaintiffs’ decedents.”

Judge Burlison also noted that the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act was a law that also provided for potential penalties against Johnson & Johnson.

In the post-trial motions brought by Johnson & Johnson, it argued that the St. Louis City Court lacked jurisdiction over the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical firm (Johnson & Johnson), and that plaintiffs failed to prove their claims. The company also alleged misconduct against plaintiffs’ lead trial lawyer, Mark Lanier, for his references to stillborn babies in an opening statement and showing the jury a drawing of a bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder pushing a woman over a ledge into “ovarian cancer.”

Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson also said there is no evidence that the baby powder or talc product caused ovarian cancer, and the company criticized the plaintiffs’ experts.

Judge Burlison never mentioned Lanier’s conduct during the trial and found there was more than enough evidence on causation. “The evidence presented at trial includes the testimony of plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, defendants’ correspondence and the testimony of defendants’ corporate representative and chief medical officer.”

“This evidence satisfies the standards for causation under all applicable state law.”

It should be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioned a study of various talc samples from 2009 to 2010, including that of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.  No asbestos was found in any of the talc samples, the agency said.

However, Lanier told the jurors during trial that the agency and other laboratories and Johnson & Johnson had used flawed testing methods that did not allow for the proper detection of asbestos fibers.

Talc, the world’s softest rock, is a mineral closely linked to asbestos and the two substances can appear together. The plaintiffs in this case claimed that the two substances can become intermingled in the mining process, making it impossible to remove the carcinogenic substance. Johnson & Johnson denied those allegations, saying rigorous testing and purification processes ensure its talc is clean.

According to the report of the trial and its verdict, the jury’s award basically provided $25 million to each family who sued Johnson & Johnson, including six plaintiffs who sued on behalf of relatives who died and other plaintiffs who had a spouse who claimed health defects.

Six of the 22 plaintiffs in this trial have died from ovarian cancer. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from states that included Arizona, New York, North Dakota, Carolina, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Texas.

Johnson & Johnson has vowed to appeal the $4.7 billion verdict.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling pharmaceutical defect lawsuits, toxic fumes exposure lawsuits, benzyne exposure lawsuits, diesel fume injury cases and product liability lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Mundelein, Midlothian, Matteson, New Lenox, Naperville, Orland Park, Olympia Fields, Palos Park, Chicago (Rogers Park, Albany Park, Jefferson Park, Jackson Park, Roscoe Village, Beverly, Little Italy, Little Village, Gresham, Garfield Park, DePaul University Area, Hyde Park, Wrigleyville, West Rogers Park), Berwyn, Bolingbrook, Joliet, Elgin, Flossmoor, Highwood and Des Plaines, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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