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Supreme Court turns down Johnson & Johnson’s appeal of $2-billion talc verdict

A bottle of Johnson's baby powder.
Johnson & Johnson has stopped selling its talc-based baby powder in the U.S. and Canada, but it remains on the market elsewhere.
(Associated Press)

The Supreme Court has let stand a $2-billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson in favor of women who say they developed ovarian cancer from using the company’s talc products.

The justices did not comment Tuesday in rejecting Johnson & Johnson’s appeal of the verdict. The company had argued that it was unfair for it to face a single trial that involved 22 cancer patients who came from 12 states and had different backgrounds.

A Missouri jury initially awarded the women $4.7 billion, but a state appeals court dropped two women from the suit and reduced the award to $2 billion. The jury found that the company’s talc products contained asbestos and that asbestos-laced talc can cause ovarian cancer. The company disputes both points.

Johnson & Johnson, which is based in New Brunswick, N.J., has stopped selling its talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. and Canada, but it remains on the market elsewhere.

Johnson & Johnson resolved a woman’s claims that asbestos-laced baby powder caused her cancer before a jury got a chance to consider the allegations.

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The company faces thousands of lawsuits from women who allege that asbestos in the powder caused their cancer. Talc is a mineral similar in structure to asbestos, which is known to cause cancer, and they are sometimes obtained from the same mines. The cosmetics industry agreed in 1976 to make sure that its talc products do not contain detectable amounts of asbestos.

The lead attorney for the women during the trial, Mark Lanier, praised the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Johnson & Johnson’s appeal. “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,” Lanier said.

Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Brett M. Kavanaugh took no part in the court’s action. Alito owns $15,000 to $50,000 in Johnson & Johnson stock. Kavanaugh’s father headed the trade association that lobbied against labeling talc a carcinogen and including a warning label on talc products.

Ethicists contacted by the Associated Press said they did not think E. Edward Kavanaugh’s role required his son to step aside from the case.


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