A New Jersey jury this week ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $750 million in punitive damages for the pharmaceutical giant’s failure to warn about the potential for consumers to be exposed to toxic asbestos from its talcum powder products. The millions of dollars in punitive damages are in addition to the $37.2 million in compensatory damages that were awarded in September to four plaintiffs diagnosed with mesothelioma after using Johnson’s Baby Powder for years. The case is one of thousands of lawsuits filed against J&J by former users of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower body powder, each of which involves similar allegations that the company knew for years about problems with asbestos contamination and the risk of ovarian cancer, mesothelioma and other serious injuries.
This latest talcum powder verdict was delivered during the second phase of a trial that originally took place in September. The punitive damages are designed to punish Johnson & Johnson for its reckless behavior, which the jury found exposed consumers to an unnecessary risk of harm. The judge overseeing the talcum powder trial made the decision to reduce the punitive damages award to $186.5 million, due to laws in New Jersey that limit punitive damages to five times the amount of the compensatory damage award. Even with the reduction in punitive damages, J&J will still have to pay nearly $224 million in damages to the four plaintiffs who claim that their mesothelioma diagnoses were caused by exposure to asbestos in Johnson’s talc-based Baby Powder.
Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer occurring in the lining of the lungs and other organs. The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring group of minerals that were once heavily used in commercial and industrial applications because of their durability, tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to heat, electricity and corrosion. These qualities make asbestos useful, but they also make exposure to asbestos highly toxic. According to the World Health Organization, “All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans,” meaning they can cause cancer in humans. Furthermore, the organization says that “Exposure to asbestos, including chrysotile, causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.”
The connection between asbestos and talcum powder is due to the fact that asbestos can be found in close proximity to talc in the earth. As a result, some talc products are naturally contaminated with asbestos fibers and consumers who use these products may be at risk for cancer and other side effects from unknowingly inhaling asbestos fibers that are released into the air. People have used talcum powder products like Johnson’s Baby Powder for more than a century to dry and protect their skin, unaware that their regular use of a seemingly harmless product could be putting them at risk for cancer. Even the FDA has warned that the agency “has received questions about [talcum powder’s] safety and whether talc contains harmful contaminants, such as asbestos.”
Johnson’s Baby Powder is among several brands of talcum powder that have tested positive for asbestos contamination recently. Last October, after testing indicated the presence of asbestos contamination in samples of Johnson’s Baby Powder, Johnson & Johnson was forced to issue a Baby Powder recall, which affected approximately 33,000 bottles sold in stores nationwide. Even as Johnson’s Baby Powder was being recalled due to asbestos, Johnson & Johnson continued to dispute the alleged risk of asbestos contamination from talcum powder, indicating that the company “has a rigorous testing standard in place to ensure its cosmetic talc is safe” and arguing that “years of testing, including the FDA’s own testing on prior occasions–and as recently as last month–found no asbestos. Thousands of tests over the past 40 years repeatedly confirm that our consumer talc products do not contain asbestos.”
Johnson & Johnson has announced that it plans to appeal this latest verdict, as well as the compensatory damages verdict from the first phase of the talcum powder trial in September. The company will also continue to defend itself against the growing number of product liability lawsuits brought by consumers who were diagnosed with mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and other cancers allegedly caused by exposure to asbestos in its talcum powder products. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer and you believe asbestos exposure to be the cause, contact an experienced talcum powder cancer lawyer today to discuss your legal options. You may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills and other damages, which you can pursue by filing a talcum powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson.