No appeal to US Supreme Court for Johnson & Johnson against $2bn awards in talc case

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by Johnson & Johnson against a Missouri state court’s award of $2.12 billion to women who claim the company’s talc products caused them to develop ovarian cancer.

J&J has argued that a decision to combine claims brought by 22 women (including 17 from outside Missouri) into a single jury trial was a violation of the firm’s right to due process under the US Constitution.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued in response that the courts of Missouri had jurisdiction, and noted that one

Johnson-Johnson_Lawsuit_Image-source-Justin-Sullivan-Getty-Images

of the products bought in another state was made there. They also stated that it is not unusual for courts to combine very similar cases into one trial.

In the original case, a jury found in 2018 after a six-week hearing that J&J’s talc products contained asbestos and that talc-containing asbestos can cause ovarian cancer. The company appealed against both findings to the Missouri Court of Appeals. While that court upheld those findings, it also removed two plaintiffs from the case and reduced the award from $4.69 billion to $2.12 billion. It further noted that J&J disregarded consumer safety and that its conduct was significantly reprehensible.

The company then petitioned the US Supreme Court after the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear its appeal in November. In court documents, it said the Missouri case involved a strategy of bringing claims from other jurisdictions before a jury that might be prejudiced and so award excessive damages. J&J has previously said that it is facing over 19,000 similar claims.

Two US Supreme Court judges recused themselves from the matter: Samuel Alito, who owns J&J shares, and Brett Kavanaugh, whose father ran the trade association that lobbied against designating talc a carcinogen and placing a warning label on talc products.

Since the 2018 judgment in the Missouri case, nine of the plaintiffs have died. J&J no longer sells talc-based baby powder in the US and Canada, though it continues to do so in some other countries.

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