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Johnson & Johnson loses US$2.12bn baby-powder appeal bid

Missouri’s highest court has refused to consider Johnson & Johnson’s appeal of a US$2.12 billion damages order awarded to women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in its baby powder and other talc products.

The Missouri Supreme Court let stand a June 23 decision by a state appeals court, which upheld a jury’s July 2018 finding of liability but reduced J&J’s payout from $4.69 billion after dismissing claims by some of the 22 plaintiffs.

Johnson & Johnson said it now plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

It said the verdict was the product of a “fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” and was “at odds with decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer”.

A worker closes a glass cabinet of Johnson & Johnson baby powder bottles at a medical store in Kolkata, India. Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri.

The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company also said it will set aside a $2.1 billion reserve for the verdict, to be reflected in its year-end financial results.

Kevin Parker, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement: “Johnson & Johnson should accept the findings of the jury and the appellate court and move forward with proper compensation to the victims.”

Johnson & Johnson said in May it would stop selling its Baby Powder talc in the US and Canada.

The company said last month it faces more than 21,800 lawsuits claiming that its talc products cause cancer because of contamination from asbestos, a known carcinogen.

In its June decision, the Missouri Court of Appeals said it was reasonable to infer from the evidence that Johnson & Johnson “disregarded the safety of consumers” in its drive for profit, despite knowing its talc products caused ovarian cancer. It also found “significant reprehensibility” in the company’s conduct.

Johnson & Johnson has faced intense scrutiny of its baby powder’s safety following a 2018 Reuters investigative report that found it knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its talc.

Internal company records, trial testimony and other evidence show that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, J&J’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.

  • Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Nate Raymond

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