J&J Asks Missouri Supreme Court to Overturn $2.1B Talc Ruling

As expected, Johnson & Johnson has filed an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court asking it to throw out a $2.1 billion ruling awarded to 22 women who suffered ovarian cancer after years of using Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. The appeal is a last-ditch effort by the talc manufacturer as it faces nearly 20,000 additional talc and ovarian cancer claims.

In 2018, a St. Louis jury awarded 22 women a total of $550 million in compensation plus an additional $4.1 billion in punitive damages intended to punish the company for its misdeeds. Six of the women had died of ovarian cancer prior to trial, and damages will eventually be awarded to surviving family members.

Judge Rex M. Burlison, who presided over the trial in the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri, wrote: “substantial evidence was adduced at trial of particularly reprehensible conduct” by Johnson & Johnson, including that the company “knew of the presence of asbestos in products that they knowingly targeted for sale to mothers and babies, knew of the damage their products caused, and misrepresented the safety of these products for decades.”

Johnson & Johnson appealed that ruling, asking the Missouri Court of Appeals to instead hear separate trials for each plaintiff. The court refused their request, but did cut damages in half, ordering J&J to pay $2.12 billion. In the court’s 83-page decision, issued in June 2020, the court found that J&J knew “talc in their products caused ovarian cancer,” and it wrote: “Because Defendants are large, multi-billion dollar corporations, we believe a large amount of punitive damages is necessary to have a deterrent effect in this case.”

Johnson & Johnson vowed to appeal the Court of Appeals ruling the day it was issued. This latest appeal claims that the prior judgments were based on insufficient evidence. However, a Daubert hearing decided by Chief District Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the U.S. District Court for New Jersey found that the scientific evidence supporting the link between talc and ovarian cancer is credible and admissible in court.

Adding to evidence against Johnson & Johnson, the FDA found asbestos in multiple samples of its baby powder in March 2020. For decades, J&J has been trusted by the FDA to conduct its own testing and has claimed there is no asbestos in the product. The findings, which J&J still claims are flawed, contributed to the company discontinuing sales of its talc-based baby powder in Canada and the United States. It continues to sell talc-based powder in other markets.

It is not known when the Missouri Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear this latest appeal. If it denies the appeal, Johnson & Johnson will have to pay the plaintiffs involved. Such a denial may also put additional pressure on the company to settle with thousands of remaining plaintiffs.