New Jersey Superior Court Judge Ana C. Viscomi rejected Johnson & Johnson’s motion to dismiss a $186 million combined punitive damage award involving claims that the company knew the talc used in its iconic Johnson’s baby powder could become contaminated with asbestos — a known carcinogen — but failed to notify regulators or warn consumers, according to Law360.
The issue began last year, when a New Jersey jury hit J&J with $37.3 million in compensatory damages in a trial brought by four plaintiffs who claimed exposure to the company’s asbestos-tainted talc caused them to develop mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. They also handed down a combined $750 million in punitive damages.
In February, Judge Viscomi reduced the award to comply with state law that caps punitive damages at no more than five times the compensatory verdict. Thus, the punitive damages were reduced to $186 million and divided among the plaintiffs as $29.5 million, $36.25 million, $47.25 million, and $73.5 million.
But Johnson & Johnson wanted to skirt the punitive damages completely. Judge Viscomi said no, saying there was “clear and convincing evidence presented” that the consumer health care giant tried to mislead regulators and withhold evidence of asbestos from consumers. Furthermore, she found that “J&J knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos in its talc for decades.” She added that the company even advocated for testing methods for its talc that were not sensitive enough to detect asbestos.
“J&J’s conduct here was reprehensible,” Judge Viscomi said. “The award, modified by the Punitive Damages Act, is not so clearly disproportionate to the injury and does not shock the conscience of the court.”
Beasley Allen lawyer Rhon Jones is looking at similar cases of industrial, occupational and secondary asbestos exposure resulting in lung cancer or mesothelioma as well as claims of asbestos-related talc products linked to mesothelioma. Beasley Allen’s Leigh O’Dell and Ted Meadows are handling claims involving ovarian cancer linked to use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene.