Toxic beauty has financial repercussions for Johnson & Johnson. A New Jersey jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $750 million in punitive damages to four cancer victims who charged that the company’s Johnson’s Baby Powder contained cancer-causing asbestos. The jury agreed that J&J had acted “maliciously or in wanton disregard” of the safety risks of the four plaintiffs.
“This case is really about the fact that J&J structured their last 50 years of conduct around concealing that there were, and have always been, asbestos fibers in their baby powder,” said trial lawyer Chris Panatier of Dallas-based Simon Greenstone Panatier. “They designed test methods that they knew lacked the sensitivity to detect the asbestos that was present and then on the occasions when asbestos was found, took steps to make excuses, blame non-existent contamination, delete and alter test results. The jury saw all of that.”
It was also the first time J&J CEO Alex Gorsky has taken the stand in a talc case. Under questioning from Mr. Panatier, Gorsky admitted that he had not made an effort to go through the actual relevant documents before going on national television to proclaim the safety of talc three days after a Reuters story alleging that J&J knew of and concealed the fact of asbestos in the product.
J&J spokesperson Kim Montagnino said, “Today’s verdict is at odds with the decades of evidence showing the Company acted responsibly, was guided by sound science and used the most sophisticated testing available for its talc.”
In September, a separate jury found Johnson & Johnson liable in the lawsuit by plaintiffs Douglas Barden, David Etheridge, D’Angela McNeill, and Will Ronning and awarded $37.3 million in actual damages to the cancer victims.
The case is Barden, et al. v. Johnson & Johnson, et al. in the Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No.: MID-L-1809-17 AS.
Following the verdict, the judge who presided over the trial indicated that the award would be reduced to $186.5 million based on state law caps that limit punitive damages to five times the compensatory amount.
Photo: via Johnson & Johnson