Johnson & Johnson shares dip after massive talcum powder judgment

Plaintiff Gail Ingham foreground stands outside the civil courthouse with attorneys Lee Cirsch Eric Holland and Mark Lanier. A jury awarded nearly $US4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families who claimed asbestos in Johnso

Plaintiff Gail Ingham foreground stands outside the civil courthouse with attorneys Lee Cirsch Eric Holland and Mark Lanier. A jury awarded nearly $US4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families who claimed asbestos in Johnso

JOHNSON & Johnson has been ordered to pay a record $US4.69 billion ($A6.34 billion) to 22 women in the United States who alleged the company's talc-based products contained asbestos and caused them to develop ovarian cancer.

The jury awarded $550 million and later added $4.14 billion in punitive damages against the company for allegedly failing to warn that its talcum powder raised the risk of ovarian cancer, after a six-week trial.

Johnson & Johnson, which is now battling some 9,000 legal cases involving its signature baby powder, said it was "deeply disappointed" and planned to appeal.

While the largest verdict in a USA jury trial so far this year will grab the headlines, the jury's decision that asbestos in J&J's Baby Powder caused the women's ovarian cancer may be a bigger, long-term concern, said Jean Eggen, a Widener University law professor who teaches about mass-tort cases.

Six of the 22 women are now deceased and one more was too ill to attend the trial; the courtroom was filled with the remaining plaintiffs and their families and friends. At issue were claims that the pharmaceutical giant sold powder products that were contaminated with asbestos - once a pollutant in talc that has been linked to lung cancer - though there is much debate about whether talcum powder can lead to ovarian cancer.

"Some scientists have suggested that talc particles could travel to the ovaries, irritate them and cause inflammation", says Cancer Research UK.

Mark Lanier, the lawyer for the women, in a statement following the verdict called on J&J to pull its talc products from the market "before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a bad disease". However asbestos, which can contaminate talc if not carefully extracted or purified, is a carcinogen.

Even as Johnson & Johnson has successfully appealed three talc verdicts, the company has now suffered its biggest legal setback yet for the products. Still, they continue to deny any traces of asbestos in their products.

J&J said it was "deeply disappointed in the verdict".

The payout comprises $US550 million in compensatory damages and $US4.14 billion in punitive damages. But that 2017 verdict by a California jury, as well as other verdicts in Missouri, was overturned on appeal, and challenges to at least another five verdicts are pending.

The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had earlier - from 2009 to 2010 - commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples.

The women who sued, whose jobs range from school bus driver to executive director of a job-retraining program, come from states including Pennsylvania, California, Arizona and NY.

"For someone without a family history of ovarian cancer the lifetime risk of developing the disease is two percent". Already, Johnson & Johnson is reeling from the decision; its stock is down almost 3% in premarket trading.

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