US Supreme Court rejects J&J appeal in $2 billion talc case

In a ruling which will be closely followed by the product liability market, the US Supreme Court has declined to hear pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson’s bid to overturn some $2 billion in damages.

The $2.12 billion award had been given to women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in the company’s baby powder and other talc products.

The court dismissed the Johnson & Johnson appeal and left in place a Missouri state court ruling in the litigation brought by 22 women whose claims were heard together in one trial.

Last year the Missouri Court of Appeals, an intermediate state appellate court, ruled against J&J’s bid to throw out the compensatory and punitive damages awarded to the plaintiffs but reduced the total to $2.12 billion from the $4.69 billion originally decided by a jury.

J&J said in a statement that there are unresolved legal issues that will continue to be litigated.

“The matters that were before the court are related to legal procedure, and not safety. Decades of independent scientific evaluations confirm Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the company said.

Johnson & Johnson had argued that a decision by a Missouri circuit court judge to consolidate disparate baby powder-related claims from the plaintiffs – including 17 women from outside the state – for a trial before a single jury violated the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company’s due process rights under the US Constitution.

The company had also argued that the size of the jury’s damages award violated its due process rights.

Last November the Missouri Supreme Court, the state’s highest court, declined to hear Johnson & Johnson’s appeal of the Missouri Court of Appeals ruling, prompting the company to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Talc is a mineral and can sometimes be found in the ground in close proximity to asbestos.

Johnson & Johnson has consistently denied that its products ever contained asbestos and says they do not cause cancer.

The pharmaceutical giant maintains that several studies have shown its talc to be safe.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously commissioned a study of a variety of talc samples, including Johnson & Johnson, from 2009 to 2010. It found no asbestos in any of them.

Johnson & Johnson said in May 2020 that it would stop selling its baby powder talc in the United States and Canada, citing changes in consumer habits and what it labelled “misinformation” about the product’s safety following litigation.