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$4.69 bn verdict against Johnson & Johnson over cancer from talc

Bloomberg/St. Louis/Detroit 14 Jul 18 | 01:23 AM

Eva Echeverria, one of the people who sued Johnson & Johnson, started using baby powder when she was 11 and continued using it after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, unaware that some studies had linked the talc to cancer. Photo: Reuters

Johnson & Johnson fell after a jury ordered the company to pay $4.69 billion to women who claimed asbestos in the company’s talc products caused them to develop ovarian cancer, marking the sixth-largest product-defect verdict in US history.

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The award of $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million to compensate 22 women and their families for their losses sent shares of the health-care and consumer-products giant down 1.9 per cent to $125.28 at 8:03 a.m. in premarket trading on Friday in New York. The verdict on Thursday by jurors in St. Louis city court came in the first test of plaintiffs’ claims of an asbestos—ovarian cancer link in use of J&J’s iconic baby powder. The asbestos cases are part of more than 9,000 claims alleging that J&J’s talc products cause cancer.

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The company will appeal, Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman, said in an email. 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,’’ she said.


That each plaintiff and her family members were awarded $25 million for their losses “irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable law, reflects that the evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding,’’ Goodrich added.

Investors are likely to increase their focus on the talc cases on the heels of the large award for the plaintiffs, according to Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan, who has an outperform rating on the company’s shares. Divan said he is confident J&J can absorb “even relatively large payments" to resolve the cases.

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