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What does it mean that a jury awarded money to a woman who claimed that talc-powder caused her ovarian cancer?  It means that very convincing scientific evidence has shown for decades that talc causes cancer.  Johnson & Johnson, the leading seller of baby powder has been selling the product for decades for genital use on babies and adults.  The jury found that Johnson & Johnson knew of the dangers and hid the dangers from consumers.  The jury foreman confirmed that the jury “…found that Johnson and Johnson knew for decades that they should have put a warning on the product…”.  Why does a large respectable company fail to warn its customers that one of its most popular products likely causes life threatening ovarian cancer?  In our opinion, money, profits and executive bonuses.   A strong warning label would have dramatically reduced sales of baby powder, and that would have affected J&J’s bottom line.

What is remarkable about this verdict is that this case was a “defense pick”.  This means that defense attorneys chose this particular case as a case they thought they had a higher chance of winning compared many other similar talc injury cases filed against Johnson & Johnson.  Yet the jury still awarded large compensative damages and huge punitive damages.

This author has written on punitive damages before and explained that punitive damages are limited to cases where the defendant has engaged in behavior that is so “bad” that the jury is allowed to decide whether to punish the defendant.  Usually a plaintiff is not allowed to present evidence of punitive damages because the civil court system in the U.S. is designed to compensate the injured rather than punish the wrongdoer.  The judge in this case allowed the jury to consider punitive damages.  The jury decided that the evidence presented during trial required them to punish Johnson & Johnson for its conduct in the amount of $50 million.

Johnson and Johnson says it plans to appeal the verdict.  More than 1200 lawsuits alleging talc caused cancer have been filed in state and federal courts.

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