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Oregon jury rules J&J must pay US$260 million to talc victim

Johnson & Johnson must pay $260 million to an Oregon woman who said she got mesothelioma, a deadly cancer linked to asbestos exposure, from inhaling the company’s talc powder, a jury found on Monday.

The verdict in the 4th Judicial District Circuit Court in Portland comes as the company continues to pursue a proposed $6.48 billion settlement of most talc-related lawsuits against it through a prepackaged bankruptcy. The jury’s award includes $60 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages, and includes damages for both the plaintiff and her husband.

Erik Haas, J&J’s worldwide vice president of litigation, said in a statement that the verdict “is irreconcilable with the decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming talc is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer.” He said the company would appeal and was confident it would get the verdict reversed.

The plaintiff in the case, Kyung Lee, was diagnosed last year with mesothelioma at age 48.

Lee alleged that she inhaled asbestos-tainted talc over more than 30 years, beginning when her mother used it on her when she was a baby and later when she used it herself as a deodorant.

J&J maintains that its talc products do not contain asbestos and do not cause cancer, and that decades of scientific studies support their safety.

A lawyer for J&J said at trial that Lee’s illness was likely caused by exposure to asbestos used at a factory near where she grew up.

Reuters watched the trial through Courtroom View Network.

J&J faces lawsuits from more than 61,000 plaintiffs over talc. The vast majority are by women with ovarian cancer, with only a small minority involving people with mesothelioma. The company has settled most of the mesothelioma cases.

J&J needs the support of 75 per cent of remaining plaintiffs to get approval for a bankruptcy settlement that would end the litigation, shutting off future cases and preventing people from opting out of the deal.

Courts rejected two previous efforts by the company to resolve the talc cases in bankruptcy. J&J has said it is confident that support from plaintiffs will allow the latest attempt to succeed.

A group of plaintiffs opposed to the deal on May 22 filed a class action lawsuit aiming to stop it, calling it a “fraudulent” abuse of the bankruptcy system.

Trials in the talc cases have had a mixed record, with major plaintiff wins including a $2.1 billion judgment in 2021 awarded to 22 women with ovarian cancer. In April, J&J won an ovarian cancer case and was hit with a $45 million verdict in a mesothelioma case.

  • Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Leslie Adler, of Reuters.

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