Last month, a Missouri appeals court ordered Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary to pay $2.1 billion in damages to women who blamed their ovarian cancers on the company’s baby powder and other talcum powder products. While the decision slashed a record 2018 verdict of $4.69 billion in compensatory and punitive damages by more than half, the appeals court’s decision leaves J&J squarely on the hook for its wrongdoing in promoting, as safe, products J&J knew were contaminated with asbestos and posed significant cancer risk to ordinary users.
In its decision, the Appeals Court noted the J&J internal memoranda from as far back as the 1960s indicated its talcum products — referred to as the “golden egg,” “company trust-mark” and “sacred cow” — contained asbestos and could be dangerous to end-users. Asbestos has been linked to ovarian cancer since 1958 and the International Agency for Research on Cancer affirmed asbestos as a cause of the cancer in 2011. Just last month J&J announced it would stop selling baby powder made from talc in North America, though it would continue to market and sell its talc-based products elsewhere in the world.
In separate, but related news, Imerys SA, which mines the talc used in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and other products, has agreed to resolve over 14,000 lawsuits claiming the mineral caused cancer in some consumers. Under the terms of the settlement, Imerys Talc America, Imerys Talc Vermont and Imerys Talc Canada – the units that sought bankruptcy protection last year -- will be sold at auction with the proceeds going into a trust to compensate talc victims. In exchange, the plaintiffs will drop their suits, allowing the businesses to emerge from Chapter 11.
The settlement aims to end six years of litigation over Imerys’s role as the sole talc supplier for J&J, and arguably puts pressure on J&J to resolve its inventory of ovarian cancer claims. For the moment, however, J&J appears dug in, publicizing it would again appeal the $2.4 billion reduction it just obtained through Missouri’s intermediate appeals court. J&J has said it will undertake a second appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court. In the meantime, if you suspect you may have contracted cancer as a result of your exposure to talcum powder products, you should contact an experienced law firm right away to explore your rights.