Last month, a Missouri appeals court rejected Johnson & Johnson’s (J & J) request to throw out a jury verdict that awarded $4.69 billion dollars in damages to 22 women, all of whom had a long history of using J & J’s talc baby powder, and alleged that the product caused them to develop ovarian cancer. That award was reduced to $2.1 billion, and on July 13, that award was upheld by a Missouri Court of Appeals.
A three-judge panel found Johnson & Johnson “Outrageous because of Evil Motive or Reckless Indifference.” The award is the sixth largest in U.S. history.
The judges found “significant reprehensibility” in J&J’s handling of the issue of asbestos in its talc. At issue was the fact that since at least the early 1970s, J & J knew that some of its talc was tainted with asbestos, which when used in the genital area over long periods of time, has been linked to ovarian cancer.
In late 2018, Reuters released a bombshell report, revealing the extent to which J & J executives, scientists, attorneys, doctors, mine managers and other employees attempted to hide the contamination.
Despite the ruling and approximately 20,000 lawsuits the company still faces over its talc powder, J&J still maintains that the product is safe. A company spokesperson inferred that the fact that the 22 women all used its talc powder is a coincidence and means nothing, “Nothing more than 22 people catching the flu after watching the Super Bowl means that the Super Bowl caused their flu,” said the company’s spokesperson.
Because of declining sales and mounting negative publicity over the lawsuits, J & J decided in May to discontinue sales of its talc-based baby powder. However, the product has not been recalled; unsold bottles may still be for sale in various drug stores. J & J’s talc powder is actively sold in countries around the world other than the U.S. and Canada. More than 170 nonprofit groups from 51 countries are demanding that J & J discontinue the distribution of its talc powder.
According to Reuters, Janette Robinson Flint, the executive director of Black Women for Wellness, said in a statement that J&J’s choice to continue marketing baby powder in international markets, often to Black and Brown consumers, contradicts a statement it issued in June committing to fighting racial inequality.
Cornstarch powder is considered a safe alternative to talc.