In July 2018, 22 women spearheaded a class-action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson over baby powder. A jury in St. Louis agreed with the claim of the women, their families, and their doctors that J&J’s talcum powder, which was found to contain asbestos, caused or contributed to their ovarian cancer. The case wasn’t the first of its kind, but it was one of the first to succeed, probably because it focused – with proof – on claims that J&J had known about the asbestos for years. Before and since that verdict, there have been more than 26,000 lawsuits against J&J for its baby powder.
The jury at the time awarded the plaintiffs with $4.7 billion in damages, an average of just over $200 million per victim for the loss of their health, fertility, and, in three cases, their lives. A later appeal in December 2018 reduced that amount by over half, to $2.1 billion.
Johnson & Johnson has yet to pay any of this, due to continuing appeals. On June 1, 2021, the Supreme Court rejected the company’s final appeal. J&J has tried to argue that the 22 cases should not have been heard as a joint trial, as their cases were too different from each other.
Two Supreme Court justices had to recuse themselves from the matter for personal bias – Justice Samuel Alito owns a significant amount of stock in the pharmaceutical company, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s father had a major role in lobbying against safety warnings on talc products which may contain asbestos. The remaining seven justices rejected the appeal without comment.
“This decision sends a clear message to the rich and powerful: You will be held to account when you cause grievous harm under our system of equal justice under law,” said Mark Lanier. Lanier was the lead attorney for the women and their families during the 2018 trial.
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