Article originally posted by Law360 author Daniel Siegal below:
Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder contained asbestos and gave cancer to 22 women, a St. Louis jury held Thursday, slamming the company with $550 million in compensatory damages plus $4.14 billion in punitive damages.
In the latest trial over the alleged talcum powder-cancer link, the St. Louis Circuit Court jury deliberated for less than a full day after a six-week trial, returning Thursday around 2:30 p.m. with a verdict in favor of the claims of 22 women from across the nation, six of whom have died, against J&J and subsidiary Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc.
The jury unanimously held both J&J and J&J Consumer liable for strict liability and negligence as to all of the plaintiffs’ injuries, generally awarded each woman suing on her own $25 million, and generally awarded women who sued with their husbands $12.5 million each. The total verdict amount was $550 million.
The jury also found both companies are liable for punitive damages as to each of the plaintiffs, and resumed deliberations as to the punitives for less than two hours, before returning at roughly 5:30 p.m.
The jury awarded $4.14 billion total in punitive damages, $3.15 billion against J&J and $990 million against J&J Consumer. The jury voted 11-1 for the J&J punitive damages verdict, and unanimously for the J&J Consumer verdict.
The women’s attorney, Mark Lanier of Lanier Law Firm, said in a statement Thursday that the company should pull its talc products from shelves and sell only its safe cornstarch alternative instead.
“For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products,” Lanier said. “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.”
During the brief punitive damages phase arguments the jury heard after delivering their first verdict, Lanier told the jury that J&J had “deliberately exposed millions of Americans” to a dangerous substance, and asked them to impose a verdict the company would notice.
And during closing arguments Wednesday, Lanier told the jury that the evidence was there that J&J had covered up testing data and scientific studies that it knew showed the cosmetic-grade talc in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower contained asbestos.
Lanier also described the plaintiffs to the jury one by one, mentioning their family members and details of their testimony.
Lanier had set up his closing argument in a theatrical mode, by referencing the hit police procedural show “CSI,” telling the jury that they knew that J&J had the motive, in making money, and the means, in their talcum powder, to cause the injuries suffered by his clients.
“This is CSI St. Louis in a sense. It’s your job to determine who is responsible, and the evidence says it’s Johnson & Johnson. And that responsible party needs to be brought to justice,” he said. “And as I told you at opening, it’s an easy thing to do, you’ve seen it on TV, you’ve just got to follow the evidence.”
Peter Bicks of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, representing J&J, took aim at Lanier’s center-stage style during his closing argument, pointing to an old lawyer saying that when the facts are on your side, use the facts, when the law is on your side, use the law, and when you’ve got neither, “bang the table.”
“I give Mr. Lanier credit, he’s quite a showman, and he’s quite a storyteller, but some stories are just fiction,” Bicks said.
Bicks said that the fiction being told is that J&J is only about profit, and is keeping an unsafe product on shelves to make a buck, noting that the company’s own representatives, Susan Nicholson and John Hopkins, testified not only that the product was tested and found to be asbestos-free and not a cause of cancer, but that they used the product themselves, and on their children.
Bicks told the jury that the common thread between all the plaintiffs is that they had found out about the alleged link between talcum powder and cancer by seeing attorney advertisements on television.
On Thursday, J&J spokesperson Carol Goodrich said that allowing the 22 plaintiffs to proceed in one case had clearly resulted in prejudice against J&J, pointing to the fact that despite their individual differences, each plaintiff was awarded roughly the same amount of money by the verdict.
“Johnson & Johnson is deeply disappointed in the verdict, which was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer,” she said.
Goodrich added that the company is confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause cancer, and would pursue all available appellate remedies.
“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,” she said.
Thursday’s verdict is not the first one for the plaintiffs in the many cases alleging a link between J&J talc, asbestos and cancer, but it is by far the largest one, and the roughly $213 million awarded per plaintiff would rank with the largest talc verdicts handed down, including a $417 million verdict in California that was later tossed by the trial judge, a $117 million verdict against J&J and its talc supplier in New Jersey, and a $110 million verdict in St. Louis.
The plaintiffs, including named plaintiff Gail Ingham, are represented by Mark Lanier of Lanier Law Firm.
J&J is represented by Peter Bicks, Morton Dubin and Lisa Simpson of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and by HeplerBroom LLC. Imerys Talc America is represented by Jane Bockus of Dykema Cox Smith, and Kenneth Ferguson of Gordon & Rees LLP.
The case is Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson et al., case number 1522-CC10417, in the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri.
For more coverage of this trial, visit Courtroom View Network.
–Additional reporting by Dave Simpson, Rachel Graf and Bill Wichert. Editing by Breda Lund.