Litigation Update: Missouri State Court Cuts Johnson & Johnson Talc Damages Award in Half but Upholds Verdict

by | Jun 24, 2020

On June 23, in a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District reduced the damages awarded by the jury in a 2018 trial that linked Johnson & Johnson talc products to cancer, by more than half from $4.7 billion to $2.12 billion, even as it upheld the verdict itself. J&J had appealed the massive verdict in favor of 22 women suffering from ovarian cancer and continues to maintain its product is safe and asbestos-free.

In its opinion, the panel found that the testimony presented by plaintiffs’ experts was based on a “reasonable methodology” that offered a legitimate basis for the jury’s ultimate verdict.  Although it dismissed claims by some of the 22 women, in upholding part of the punitive damages award, the panel stated that the “plaintiffs proved with convincing clarity that defendants engaged in outrageous conduct because of an evil motive or reckless indifference. There was significant reprehensibility in defendants’ conduct”, noting that J&J and its affiliate had covered up the presence of asbestos in its talc products even as they discussed the risks of asbestos in its powder in internal memoranda, worked to ensure testing protocols did not detect asbestos in all samples and published articles minimizing any safety hazards in talc.  At trial, the plaintiffs argued that J&J had been aware of the presence of asbestos in some of its talc products, including its flagship baby powder product, but hid it from consumers.

J&J has said it will appeal the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court; in a statement, company spokeswoman Kim Montagnino said, “We continue to believe this was a fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts. We deeply sympathize with anyone suffering from cancer, which is why the facts are so important. We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free, and does not cause cancer.”

Johnson & Johnson announced last month that it was pulling its baby powder off the shelves in the US and Canada, citing a “portfolio reassessment related to COVID-19” and maintaining that demand for the product had been in a decline.  The company will continue to “vigorously defend the product” contending their talc is safe and asbestos-free even as it defends itself against more than 19,000 lawsuits that claim its talc products are contaminated and cause ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

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