On Thursday, February 6th, a New Jersey state court awarded plaintiffs $750 million in punitive damages to four people claiming they suffered due to exposure to asbestos in Johnson & Johnson's cosmetic talc products. The trial judge then reduced the award to $186.5 million.
Initially, another jury had awarded the plaintiffs $37.2 million in compensatory damages last September. This lawsuit is the first time in history a jury has awarded consolidated claims from multiple plaintiffs. The claim is due to mesothelioma due to exposure to Johnson & Johnson’s products containing talc.
The trial began in January, and after two hours of deliberation, the jury returned their verdict. Johnson & Johnson vowed to appeal.
After the jury awarded the plaintiffs the verdict, Judge Ana Viscomi reduced the judgment due to a New Jersey state law. The new law limits punitive damages to five times the amount of the compensation award.
This trial was unlike many other talc trials before it. In the compensatory phase, the Judge struck Johnson & Johnson’s entire closing argument from the record after their attorney repeatedly made character attacks on the plaintiff attorneys. In one instance, the defense accused the plaintiffs of “lawsuit fiction” that dominated the plaintiff's claims, according to Law 360.
In another first, Alex Gorsky, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson, testified in person for a talc trial. This testimony brought more national headlines and speculation. Initially, Gorsky tried to refuse, but the court issued a subpoena forcing the appearance.
Under testimony, Gorsky stated that he had previously denied a connection to cancer and the company's products. However, he walked it back under oath, stating he was relaying information told to him by company experts.
On December 14th, 2018, Reuters published a story that showed the company was aware of asbestos contamination but failed to disclose it to consumers or the FDA.
In late 2019, the FDA announced that they detected asbestos in a batch of Johnson & Johnson talc products. The company then voluntarily recalled the batch. However, they later denied the agency's findings stating their tests showed negative and blamed inadequate FDA procedures for providing a false positive.
All of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have developed mesothelioma, a very aggressive and fatal form of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers the majority of your internal organs. Once exposed, it can take 20 years or more to develop. Exposure to asbestos in talc products such as Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products are believed to be the cause of these plaintiffs' cancer.
Johnson & Johnson is facing over 16,800 other lawsuits regarding asbestos contamination in their talc products, according to The Motley Fool. Asbestos is a carcinogenic substance known to be a direct cause of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
Last month in January of 2020, another jury in California awarded the plaintiffs $344 million in a separate lawsuit. In this case, state officials accused the company of deceptively marketing surgical mesh devices for use in pelvic procedures in women, according to the Wall Street Journal.