(July 12, 2018) J&J was ordered to pay 22 women nearly $4.7 billion for cancer they developed after using J&J talcum powder. The women had all used Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and/or J&J’s Shower-to-Shower. A St. Louis jury agreed with the women’s attorneys that J&J’s talcum powder contained asbestos that gave them cancer. Six of the 22 women had died of ovarian cancer before the six-week trial. The jury award included $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion more in punitive damages.
The 12 St. Louis Circuit Court jurors deliberated for less than a day. They unanimously held both J&J and J&J Consumer liable for strict liability and negligence for all of the plaintiffs’ injuries. They awarded each woman suing alone $25 million, and generally awarded each woman whose lawsuit included her husband $12.5 million each.
The jury also found both J&J companies liable for punitive damages for each of the plaintiffs. The jury deliberated for the punitive damages phase less than two hours. They then awarded the heavy punitives – $3.15 billion for J&J, $990 million for J&J Consumer. In addition to the unanimous vote for damages, the jury voted 11-1 for the J&J punitive damages verdict, and unanimously for the J&J Consumer verdict.
The women’s attorney, Mark Lanier, told the jury Jonson & Johnson covered up evidence of asbestos in their products for more than 40 years. “We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board,” he said, “(and) lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer.”
During the punitive damages phase arguments the jury heard after delivering their first verdict, Mr. Lanier told the jury that J&J “deliberately exposed millions of Americans” to a dangerous substance and asked them to impose a verdict the company would notice.
During regular closing arguments, Mr. Lanier told the jury the evidence was there that J&J had covered up testing data and scientific studies that it knew showed the cosmetic-grade talc in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower contained asbestos.
In closing, Mr. Lanier also described for the jury the plaintiffs and their families, and reminded jurors of details of their testimony. He also told jurors they knew J&J had the motive (money) and the means (asbestos-tainted talc) to cause the injuries suffered by his clients.
CSI St. Louis
“This is CSI St. Louis, in a sense,” said Mr. Lanier. “It’s your job to determine who is responsible, and the evidence says it’s Johnson & Johnson (and) that responsible party needs to be brought to justice. (As) I told you at opening, it’s an easy thing to do. You’ve seen it on TV. You’ve just got to follow the evidence.”
J&J Defense: “Stories are just fiction.”
Speaking for J&J’s defense in closing, attorney Peter Bicks criticized Lanier’s style. Mr. Bicks told the jury an old lawyer aphorism that says: “When the facts are on your side, use the facts, when the law is on your side, use the law, and when you’ve got neither, bang the table.” He credited Mr. Lanier credit as being a “showman” and a “storyteller, but some stories are just fiction.”
Mr. Bicks argued that the fiction being told is that J&J is only about profit and keeping an unsafe product on shelves to make a buck. He reminded the jury of prior testimony from J&J’s own representatives, Susan Nicholson and John Hopkins. They had told the jury not only that J&J talc was tested and found to be asbestos-free, but that they used it on themselves and their children.
Mr. Bicks said the talc litigation was driven by plaintiffs’ lawyers. He said all the plaintiffs had discovered the alleged link between talcum powder and cancer through television ads sponsored by attorneys.
Following the verdict, J&J spokesperson Carol Goodrich also objected to the form of the trial. She said that allowing 22 plaintiffs to proceed in one case resulted in prejudice against J&J. She said that despite their individual circumstances [some had died, some had survived, etc.], the verdict awarded each roughly the same amount.
Ms. Goodrich also said most of the women had no connection to Missouri, which J&J attorneys are sure to point out in an appeals process that she said would be forthcoming.
J&J ordered to pay $4.7 Billion for Talc Powder Cancer
Only time will tell if this verdict will be thrown out. Many others have following judgements from this St. Louis court. Things went south for plaintiffs generally after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year made a ruling which made it very difficult for injured people to sue a corporation in any state but their own or in the state where the corporation is located.
The American court system continues to move further and further to the right, at the behest of corporations at the expense of citizens. But at the very least, this attention-grabbing verdict gives plaintiffs some hope that justice is still possible for them. People injured by corporations which exist first and last to make profits for their own executives and shareholders need to be held accountable. We congratulate the plaintiffs on the verdict and we congratulate Mr. Lanier, who we know – despite what the future may hold – is unquestionably right about at least one thing: this St. Louis jury did give Johnson & Johnson a verdict the company will notice.
The case is Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson et al., case number 1522-CC10417, in the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri.