A group of 22 women who sued pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson after developing ovarian cancer that they claim was cased by using their talc products have been awarded a staggering $6.2 billion CAD in damages by a jury in St. Louis, Missouri.
The six-week trial featured testimony from a range of witnesses, including some friends and family of the 6 plaintiffs who have since died from their illnesses, the BBC reports.
The link between talc products and ovarian cancer has been in question since the 1970s, with contradicting evidence emerging from different studies. According to the lawsuit, the company knew their talc products were contaminated with asbestos, but withheld knowledge or warnings of potential health risks from consumers.
The company however took issue with this claim, citing a 2009-2010 study from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that found no asbestos present in J&J’s talc products. The prosecution in this particular case, however, questioned the study’s validity, claiming there were flaws in the methods of testing, and it seems they managed to convince the jury.
J&J, for their part, have long stuck to their guns that there is no asbestos in its talc products, and therefore no link to ovarian cancer, and stated, “Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed,” adding that it planned to appeal this verdict as well.
This isn’t the first time the company’s been ordered to pay out a large sum (though this is the largest) – last summer a California jury ordered a pay-out of $417 million to a single woman who sued with the same claim, but this was later overturned on appeal. Though that’s not the end of the company’s worries – according to the BBC, these recent suits are just a few among a whopping 9,000 that have been brought against the pharma giant with regards to its talc products.
Mark Lanier, a lawyer representing the group of women, had some strong words on the verdict, saying they hoped it would “get the attention of the J&J board and… lead them to better inform the medical community and.. public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer.”
He went on to say the company should “pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease,” but that if they insisted on continuing to market such products, they should do so “with a serious warning.” It seems like a reasonable demand – whilst it’s not certain the extent to which there may be health risks involved, it seems fair to expect big companies to exhibit a duty of care to their consumers, highlighting possible risks, and allowing them to make their own decisions.