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Missouri Jury Awards $4.69 Billion in Talcum Powder Lawsuit

Another talcum powder verdict was handed down against Johnson & Johnson – this time, the large Fortune 500 company was ordered to pay $4.69 billion to 22 women (and their families) who argued Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products caused them to suffer ovarian cancer. The verdict was awarded in Missouri, following a trial with claims that the company failed to warn the victims of cancer risks associated with use of J&J products such as baby powder. The jury verdict consisted of $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages.

The trial, which was held in St. Louis, Missouri, lasted nearly six weeks. Jurors heard testimony from expert witnesses on both sides. They also heard testimony of the plaintiffs. 15 of the 22 plaintiffs were in the courtroom. Unfortunately, six of the plaintiffs died as a result of ovarian cancer before trial, and one was too ill to attend due to her chemotherapy. According to reports, the jury spent eight hours deliberating over compensatory damages but just 45 minutes on punitive damages.

Why Are Talcum Powder Lawsuits Filed?

Talc is a mineral, and it is comprised of natural elements such as oxygen, magnesium and silicon. These elements turn into talcum powder when combined and crushed. When talc turns into powder, it can absorb moisture. For this reason, talcum powder products are used for hygiene purposes. For more than 40 years, women have used talc-based products for genital hygiene.

Talc can enter a woman’s ovaries through exposure to the genital area. Research has shown that the use of talc-based products for genital hygiene can increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer by as much as 30 percent. Health organizations like the National Institute of Health estimate that each year, as many as 2,200 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer as a result of talcum powder use.

Research linking talcum powder to ovarian cancer is not all recent. In fact, research dating back to the 1970s noted a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. As such, lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson for their talc-based products, Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. These product liability lawsuits center on claims that the company knew of the link between talc and ovarian cancer but failed to properly warn consumers of the risk. The legal theory of failure to warn holds that product manufacturers must warn consumers of hidden dangers and provide instructions on how to properly use the product to avoid these hidden dangers. A valid warning can be included as a label, for example.

Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages

Depending on the facts of a particular personal injury or product liability action, an injured plaintiff may recover compensatory or punitive damages. Compensatory damages are the most common, and they are designed to provide a plaintiff with compensation for his or her losses. Common examples include medical bills, lost wages, prescriptions, pain and suffering, property damage, and other out of pocket expenses. To effectively document these losses, an experienced injury lawyer can consult with and retain qualified expert witnesses.

While compensatory damages are designed to be reimbursement to the plaintiff, punitive damages are designed to be punishment against the defendant for wrongdoing. Punitive damages require a higher burden of proof than compensatory damages and are typically awarded if a plaintiff can prove that the defendant demonstrated a conscious disregard for the safety of others. In pharmaceutical, product liability, or class action lawsuits, plaintiffs often pursue punitive damages by attempting to prove the defendant committed fraud or intentionally hid risks associated with the product.  For example, in this talcum powder trial, plaintiffs’ counsel argued to the jury that Johnson & Johnson knew its talc-based product contained asbestos but still chose to cover it up for more than 40 years.

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