In December 2018, Johnson & Johnson lost its motion to overturn a jury verdict that resulted in one of the largest personal injury awards on record. The plaintiffs in this case were 22 women who attributed their ovarian cancer to asbestos found in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and other talc products. Of the $4.69 billion awarded, $4.14 billion were punitive damages, and $550 million were compensatory damages.
Judge Rex Burlison upheld the award. He cited the fact that Johnson & Johnson knew about the risk that its talc products were contaminated by asbestos for decades and never disclosed these issues to the public. Rather, the company kept any negative information about their products behind closed doors.
As a result of the upheld verdict, Johnson & Johnson’s stock fell ten percent, and it continues to struggle to recover. The company took out several full-page advertisements in newspapers reaffirming the safety of its products.
Judge Burlison defended his decision by stating that “substantial evidence was adduced at trial of particularly reprehensible conduct” on Johnson & Johnson’s part and the fact that the company “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.”