It took 8 hours of deliberations on Thursday, then a St. Louis jury awarded $4.69 billion to 22 women who sued pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. They alleged that their ovarian cancer was caused by using its powder as a part of their daily feminine hygiene routine.
The award from the jury includes $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages. That is the largest verdict against the company which has sold their powder for decades.
The jury heard weeks of testimony from experts who explained the sometimes complicated science. And they listened to Johnson & Johnson who said their product was safe. They also heard from the cancer survivors themselves and the loved ones of six plaintiffs who have died from their cancer.
It wasn’t the first case brought against the company and it won’t be the last. In fact, there are thousands of cases coming through the court system all around the country.
The science is still controversial. Concerns about a link between talc and ovarian cancer started surfacing in 1971 when scientists wrote about finding talc particles embedded in ovarian and cervical tumor tissue.
Since then, studies have shown that there is an elevated risk in using talc in the genital region for a long period of time. Some studies have shown no connection between talc and cancer.
But in 2006, the International Agency for Research in Cancer, which falls under the World Health Organization, decided to classify the use of talc in the genital area as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
A separate but related set of lawsuits suggest Johnson & Johnson’s powder is contaminated with asbestos. Asbestos, a well-known cancer-causing agent, is often mined near talc. A New Jersey couple was awarded $117 million after after the husband claimed the J&J powder he inhaled caused him to have mesothelioma. It is a cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
“For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products,” Mark Lanier, lead trial counsel for the women and their families, said in a statement.
“We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer.”
In a statement following the ruling, Johnson & Johnson said it is confident its “products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer,”
The company said it is disappointed with the latest verdict plans to file an appeal.
“Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed.”