United States’ pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has been told to pay $4.7bn (£3.6bn) in damages to 22 women who alleged that its talc products caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
A Reuters report indicated that the jury hit J&J with a $4.14bn punitive damages award, which came on top of an earlier $550m damages award, bringing the total to $4.69bn. But analysts have said that while the figures were high — the largest so far in the talc litigation, according to Reuters — such awards are often later reduced or overturned.
More trouble could be becoming the way of Johnson & Johnson as thousands of other cases are still pending and could potentially be decided against the multinational company.
As a result of the court cases, Johnson & Johnson is said to be in its lowest consumer perception point, not just in the United States, where the cases have been lodged, but in other markets around the world, because the court cases have a global dimension.
The language in the suit could potentially spell doom for J&J as it was accused of knowingly failing to warn consumers its talc-based products may cause cancer.
J&J said it was “deeply disappointed” and plans to appeal. Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, said: “We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
But US bases communications expert, Ronn Torossian slammed the response as inadequate. “The response is pretty much PR boilerplate. Exude confidence, offer sympathy, and appeal to science. But none of that holds much water when compared to a dead woman’s grieving family. J&J will have to do much better if they hope to come out of this without losing significant consumer confidence.”
During the trial which lasted for six weeks, the women and their families said they developed ovarian cancer after using baby powder and other talc products for decades. Unfortunately, six of the twenty women that came forward have died from ovarian cancer.
Their lawyers alleged the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos since the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks.
Talc is a mineral and can sometimes be found in the ground in close proximity to asbestos. J&J denied that its products ever contained asbestos and insisted that they do not cause cancer.
The pharmaceutical giant added that several studies have shown its talc to be safe and said the verdict was a product of a “fundamentally unfair process”.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples, including J&J, from 2009 to 2010. It found no asbestos in any of them.
The prosecution lawyer told the Missouri court that the FDA and Johnson & Johnson had used flawed testing methods.