Judge refuses to overturn $4.7 billion talc powder verdict

A Missouri judge denied Johnson & Johnson's bid to overturn a $4.7 billion jury verdict awarded to nearly two dozen women who said the company's talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison, in a ruling Wednesday, cited evidence of what he called "particularly reprehensible conduct" by Johnson & Johnson.

Burlison wrote that "defendants knew of the presence of asbestos in products that they knowingly targeted for sale to mothers and babies, knew of the damage their products caused, and misrepresented the safety of these products for decades."

A jury in July awarded $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages to 22 women and their families after a six-week trial.

The lawsuit is among many filed on behalf of thousands of women who claim Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Other lawsuits have claimed that talc products caused mesothelioma. The company has consistently denied that its products can be linked to cancer.

Several of the cases on behalf of women with ovarian cancer have been filed in St. Louis. Johnson & Johnson, in a statement, noted that Burlison has denied similar motions in prior cases that were ultimately overturned.

A company spokesman said Thursday that Johnson & Johnson will appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

"We are confident this verdict will also be overturned on appeal," the company's statement said.

It could be years before the case is ultimately resolved.

Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said Burlison's ruling "recites the science, evidence, and the law in upholding an important judgment that delivers justice to 22 victims of an insidious cancer. We look forward to arguing this same evidence and science to the appellate courts."

Last week, Johnson & Johnson forcefully denied a report by the Reuters news service that it knew for decades about the existence of trace amounts of asbestos in its baby powder. That report sent the company's shares into a tailspin, suffering its worst one-day sell-off in 16 years.

The company has cited several studies that it says prove that the talc powder is safe.

Appeals courts in Missouri have overturned two previous talc verdicts against Johnson & Johnson, citing a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision placing limits on where companies can be sued for personal injuries.

But in this case, five of the women were from Missouri. Burlison's ruling said the venue in St. Louis was proper.