A New Jersey state jury slapped Johnson & Johnson with $750 million in punitive damages Thursday in a trial involving claims that the company knew its iconic baby powder contained cancer-causing asbestos but refused to notify federal officials or warn consumers, according to Bloomberg. However, after the verdict Superior Court Judge Ana V. Viscomi reduced the award to $186.5 million because state law limits the amount of punitive damages to five times the compensatory damages. Nearly five months ago a separate New Jersey jury in the case hit J&J with $37.3 million in compensatory damages.
The trial involved the case of four consumers who sued Johnson & Johnson alleging exposure to its asbestos-contaminated talcum powder caused them to develop mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours before handing down their verdict of $750 million in punitive damages after finding the company acted with reckless indifference. Attorneys for the plaintiffs had urged jurors to punish the consumer health care giant with an award that “cannot be a number that [J&J] would laugh at,” pointing out that Johnson & Johnson had a net worth of $58 billion and an additional $155 billion in assets.
Plaintiffs called on Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky to testify in the punitive damages trial. Gorsky, often vocal about his dismissal about claims of asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder, tried to get out of testifying. But Judge Viscomi rejected his argument finding his previous statement indicated he had personal knowledge of the allegations of asbestos contamination in the talc the company used. It was the first time Gorsky took the stand in a jury trial over claims J&J talcum powder products cause cancer.
The case is Barden vs. Brenntag North America, L-1809-17, New Jersey Superior Court, County of Middlesex (New Brunswick).
Johnson & Johnson faces more than 16,000 lawsuits claiming its talc-containing products contain asbestos and cause ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. Last fall, the company recalled some of its Johnson’s Baby Powder after testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed it contained traces of asbestos.
Beasley Allen has been privileged to represent thousands of people who developed ovarian cancer and mesothelioma after using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder. Beasley Allen lawyer Ted Meadows heads up Beasley Allen’s Talc Litigation team, and Leigh O’Dellserves as co-lead counsel in the talc federal multidistrict litigation. Sharon Zinns in the firm’s Atlanta office handles cases involving mesothelioma, including talc-related asbestos disease.