A jury in Missouri, United States, ordered multinational pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion (Rs 32,169 crore) in damages to 22 women who claimed they had developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s talc products, BBC reported on Friday. The firm is embroiled in several cases against its trademark baby powder.
This is the largest payout the pharmaceutical giant has been ordered to give till date.
The jury awarded the $550 million (around Rs 3,800 crore) to the petitioners, who had claimed that the asbestos found in the product was carcinogenic. The jury later added $4.1 billion (around Rs 28,100 crore) in punitive damages.
The plaintiff’s lawyers claimed that the asbestos fibers, used in the talc, entered the womens’ bodies as they had been using the product for decades. Six of the 22 women died. The plaintiff’s legal representatives accused the pharmaceutical giant of not warning their customers about the risks of using the talc, despite knowing since the 1970s that it was contaminated.
The firm said it would appeal the verdict and described the proceedings as “unfair”. Johnson & Johnson claimed that their products were safe, and refuted allegations that the powder contained asbestos. “[The verdict] was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer,” the company said in a statement. “Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed.”
The US Food and Drug Administration had commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples, including J&J, from 2009 to 2010. It found no asbestos in any of them. But the prosecution lawyer told the Missouri court that the FDA and Johnson & Johnson had used flawed testing methods.
United Kingdom-based cancer charity Ovacome has said that there have been concerns for some years that using talcum powder on the genital area may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, but says this has not been proven by research.