An appeals court in Missouri ruled against Johnson & Johnson in a civil suit, ordering them to pay billions in damages. The plaintiffs are women who say they have contracted ovarian cancer from the use of the company’s famous baby powder.

The women believe the talcum Johnson & Johnson baby powder contains asbestos and is the reason for their cancer. Though marketed for babies, the product is most often purchased by adult women. The court awarded $2.1 billion in damages to the women. 11 plaintiffs have died since the case began.

In 2018, a jury in the St. Louis Circuit Court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion in punitive damages and $550 in compensatory damages to the women. The jury cited a failure to adequately warn consumers about potential cancer risks as the cause for their ruling.

The latest appeals court ruling cut the previously awarded damages in half, ordering $1.62 billion in punitive damages and $500 million in actual damages.

Asbestos is a carcinogen that has been linked to different types of cancer, including ovarian. It grows under conditions similar to talc – in underground deposits, and the two natural minerals can sometimes be found together in mines.

Memos discovered during the trial process show that Johnson & Johnson has been fearful of asbestos in its talcum products for at least 50 years. In 1980, the company released a separate baby powder made from cornstarch, and last year they recalled 33,000 talc baby powder bottles due to a found presence of asbestos. But the talc powder has remained on the shelves until just this May when Johnson & Johnson formally stopped selling the baby powder in North America.

Regarding its decision, the court stated:  “A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their products caused ovarian cancer.”

Johnson & Johnson faces over 19,000 lawsuits concerning its talc products.

Sources: New York Times 06/25, NPR 06/22, Cancer Health 06/25, American Cancer Society 06/25

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