Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay out €4bn in talc cancer lawsuit

Lawyers said the company has been covering up the link between talc and cancer for 40 years

Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay out €4bn in talc cancer lawsuit

A container of Johnson & Johnson brand Johnson's Baby Powder in a shop in New York,24-02-2016. Image: Richard B. Levine/SIPA USA/PA Images

Global pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $4.69bn (€4bn) to 22 women who claim the company’s talc products caused them to develop cancer.

A Missouri jury ruled in favour of the women after a six-week trial and awarded $550m in compensation and $4.14bn in punitive damages - the largest payout the company has faced.

Mark Lanier, lead trial counsel for the women – six of whom have died from ovarian cancer – accused the company of covering up evidence of asbestos in its products for more than 40 years.

During the trial, scientific experts testified that the well-known carcinogen asbestos is mixed in with mineral talc – the main ingredient in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products.

Doctors testified that microscopic asbestos fibres enter the body when talcum powder is inhaled or applied to the genital area. The court heard asbestos fibres and talc particles were found in the ovarian tissues of many of the women.

“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,” said Mr Lanier.

“The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease.

“J&J sells the same powders in a marvelously safe corn starch variety. If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning.”

Johnson & Johnson is currently battling another 9,000 cases.

The company, which has successfully overturned previous cases, denies its talc products contain asbestos that cause ovarian cancer and plans to appeal the case.

"Johnson & Johnson is deeply disappointed in the verdict, which was the product of a fundamentally unfair process," it said in a statement.

"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."

The company claims decades of studies, including one by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), found its talc-based products, including J&J's Baby Powder, to be safe.

However, the women and their families claim the company knew its talc contained asbestos since the 1970s.

Lawyers told the court its products have been “laced with asbestos for decades” despite the representations it made to the FDA and others.

A previous ruling in 2017 by a California jury awarded $417m but that was later overturned on appeal. Several other legal challenges by J&J are pending.