A St. Louis jury sent a powerful message Thursday by awarding nearly $5 billion in damages over claims from women who alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder caused ovarian cancer.
The company, which has vowed to appeal, instead should take a hard look at pulling its baby powder from shelves or should, at a minimum, warn consumers of its dangers. Educating the public about possible links between talc use and cancer is paramount.
That the jury in St. Louis unanimously sided with the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit is telling, and the 22 women and their families who sued Johnson & Johnson deserve to be compensated without delay. All claimed that their ovarian cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos allegedly found in Johnson & Johnson’s powder.
The $550 million in damages that the jury awarded the victims translates to about $25 million for each family. Johnson & Johnson was docked $3.15 billion in punitive damages, and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. was ordered to pay $990,000.
The definitive $4.7 billion statement should put Johnson & Johnson on notice. So far, though, the pharmaceutical giant has been defiant in defeat.
“Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer and intends to pursue all available appellate remedies,” read a statement from the company. “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.”
The company’s unwillingness to take corrective action is disappointing. But plaintiff Karen Hawk, a 67-year-old cancer survivor from Kansas City, isn’t surprised.
The mother of five used baby powder from the time she was 10 until a cancer diagnosis in 2003. She has been cancer-free since 2008.
“These people are only concerned with the bottom line,” Hawk said of Johnson & Johnson.
Internal documents acknowledging asbestos in products or failures to warn consumers were the smoking gun in this case. That evidence, the jury said, signified the company knew of the dangers of its product.
Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, urged Johnson & Johnson to pull talcum powder from the market or add a serious warning label. That’s a reasonable request.
The victims sent stern messages as well.
One warned consumers not to buy the product. Another told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch she hopes the case will compel Johnson & Johnson make needed changes to protect mothers and babies.
Johnson & Johnson and its affiliate company should heed the words of Lanier: “You don’t jack with people’s lives like this.”
And you don’t deny them proper compensation or continue to put unwitting consumers in danger.