A Manhattan jury ordered health care giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $325 million to a woman who claimed asbestos-contaminated talc in the company’s baby powder led her to develop mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer.

The state jury awarded Donna Olson and her husband $25 million in compensatory damages and $300 million in punitive damages. Juries award punitive damages to plaintiffs to punish defendants for especially harmful behavior.

Johnson & Johnson faces more than 14,000 talc lawsuits that claim its talc-based powders Shower to Shower and Johnson’s Baby Powder caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

This verdict, along with other sizable talc verdicts, could spur additional large verdicts and settlements, according to experts.

“I believe these huge verdicts, especially in the punitive damage awards, will hasten the potential for a global resolution of the talc litigation.”
Holly Ennis, attorney and Drugwatch contributor

“I believe these huge verdicts, especially in the punitive damage awards, will hasten the potential for a global resolution of the talc litigation,” attorney Holly Ennis told Drugwatch.

Johnson & Johnson believes Olson’s trial was flawed and will appeal the verdict, company spokeswoman Kim Montagnino told Bloomberg.

“Of all the verdicts against Johnson & Johnson that have been through the appellate process, every one has been overturned,” Montagnino said.

In December 2018, the company lost its bid to reverse a $4.7 billion talc verdict awarded to 22 women with ovarian cancer. However, the company has said it is confident the verdict will be overturned on appeal, according to a report by The New York Times.

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J&J Denies Using Asbestos-Contaminated Talc

Johnson & Johnson stands by its talcum powder products, claiming they’re safe and have never contained asbestos.

But internal documents show the company knew for decades that its talc had been tainted with asbestos, plaintiffs say. Many of these documents were unearthed during trial.

“I believe that plaintiffs presenting internal documents as far back as the 1960s demonstrating that J&J knew its baby powder contained asbestos — despite J&J arguing that its powder never contained asbestos — angers juries,” Ennis said.

A December 2018 Reuters special report found the earliest mentions of tainted Johnson & Johnson talc are in reports from 1957.

Johnson & Johnson has been quick to blame the verdicts on plaintiffs’ lawyers and misinformed juries. The company accuses plaintiff’s lawyers of “cherry-picking” documents and using them out of context.

“Plaintiff trial lawyers claim that there was a conspiracy inside Johnson & Johnson to intentionally sell products that we knew contained asbestos,” the company said on its website refuting asbestos contamination claims. “This claim is false.”

Meanwhile, the company must contend with thousands of lawsuits like Donna Olsen’s.

“With this verdict, yet another jury has rejected J&J’s misleading claims that its talc was free of asbestos,” Olsen’s lawyer Jerome Block told Bloomberg.