A New Jersey jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $750 million in punitive damages to four cancer patients in the company’s latest baby powder case to go to trial.
Compensatory, Punitive Damages in Baby Powder Case
On February 6, 2020, the jury handed down its verdict in a state courtroom in New Brunswick, NJ, near Johnson & Johnson’s corporate headquarters. The plaintiffs in the baby powder case, three men and one woman, have mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer that they claim was caused by their exposure to asbestos when they were diapered as infants with Johnson’s Baby Powder.
During an earlier phase of the trial, a different jury held Johnson & Johnson liable for the plaintiffs’ mesothelioma and awarded them $37.2 million in compensation. The most recent $750 million punitive damages award is expected to be significantly reduced in light of this earlier verdict. Under New Jersey law, punitive damages – which are designed to punish defendants for outrageous conduct and to deter them and others from similar actions – are capped at five times the amount of compensatory damages, or a maximum of $186 million in this case.
Johnson & Johnson Facing Over 16,000 Lawsuits
Even with this significant reduction, however, Johnson & Johnson continues to face serious legal and financial exposure because of claims linking Johnson’s Baby Powder to cancer.
The Justice Department is currently pursuing a criminal investigation into whether Johnson & Johnson lied to the public about possible cancer risks associated with talcum powder. There are also more than 16,000 active lawsuits by plaintiffs alleging that Johnson’s Baby Powder caused their ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.
This cancer litigation has started having a negative impact on the company, and not just in the most recent Johnson’s Baby Powder case. In the past, the majority of these lawsuits focused on the alleged link between cancer and talc, the key ingredient in talcum powder. Johnson & Johnson had been largely successful at defeating these suits by undermining the existing scientific research while countering with its own opposing studies. Before 2018, the company had lost only six lawsuits that focused solely on the causal relationship between talc and cancer; of these, half were overturned on appeal, while the plaintiff in another “successful” baby powder case was awarded no damages.
But Johnson & Johnson’s fortunes began to shift in 2018, thanks to three jury verdicts against the company and an investigative report by the New York Times. The attorneys in those suits explicitly alleged that Johnson’s Baby Powder frequently contained asbestos, with one St. Louis jury awarding $4.69 billion to 22 women with ovarian cancer. The two other verdicts were on behalf of plaintiffs with mesothelioma, an exceedingly rare type of cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
Unlike talc, where the scientific evidence has been characterized as inconclusive, asbestos has been a widely acknowledged carcinogen for decades. Because of the discovery process in the three lawsuits and a concurrent New York Times investigation, internal memos and reports surfaced revealing that Johnson & Johnson knew for at least 50 years that its baby powder products had a high risk of containing asbestos –and did nothing to warn the public about it.
Another recent development may have also hurt Johnson & Johnson’s arguments against any plaintiff pursuing a baby powder case. In October 2019, the company recalled a shipment of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration discovered evidence of asbestos contamination. The recalled lot included 33,000 bottles sold in the United States.
“[The recall] will undermine Johnson & Johnson’s defense claims,” noted one business professor at the time, who added that it could lead the company to “lose more suits or pay more to settle.”
Personal Injury Lawyers Fighting Corporate Greed
Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by products. From the most advanced vehicle on the highway to the humblest item in our medicine cabinet, we trust these products to be safe, to improve our lives, not to shorten them.
But what if this trust is broken? What if we find ourselves the innocent victims of corporate greed? Who will hold these giant companies accountable for their negligence?
This is where GWC Injury Lawyers LLC can make a difference. For more than four decades, our Chicago personal injury attorneys have fought tirelessly on behalf of everyday people to ensure that not even multi-billion-dollar conglomerates are above the law. With over $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, we think our record of success speaks for itself.
So if you have been wrongfully injured, contact GWC to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation with one of the leading Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois. You may call our office at (312) 999-9999 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.