Johnson & Johnson has faced widespread legal exposure relating to its flagship talc powder product. In the past several years, juries in state court have found that talc powder was to blame for ovarian cancer and have assessed the company with steep damages. This culminated with a multi-billion dollar verdict in favor of a group of plaintiffs in Missouri. Now, there is federal multi-district litigation that is making its way through the discovery phase. Since the case is largely based on scientific evidence, a recent hearing may prove crucial to plaintiffs’ chances for success when the bellwether cases go to trial.
The allegations that Johnson & Johnson faces stem from the fact that there is at least some scientific evidence that its talc powder contains traces of asbestos. Talc and asbestos occurring near each other naturally in the ground so it is entirely possible, and perhaps probable, that where one is found, the other will be present too. This has been an issue that has been debated scientifically for decades. The company has been a part of the debate, attempting to influence the scientific research to show that its talc powder is safe. Regardless, the company has known about the possibility that its talc powder could pose a danger to users going as far back as the 1950s.
There have been numerous lawsuits brought against the company by women (and even some men) who have been long-term users of the product and have contracted various forms of cancer. Most of these lawsuits have been filed in federal court, but some trials have taken place in state court. Notably, a group of 23 women sued Johnson & Johnson in state court in Missouri. In 2018, the jury returned a verdict, finding the company liable and assessing the company with $4.7 billion in damages. Much of the award was in the form of punitive damages as the jury was put off by the pattern of corporate behavior, insofar as the company has known of the potential danger of the product yet has focused its efforts on influencing the scientific debate.