Judges slam J&J's 'reprehensible' talc defense, cut massive 2018 verdict to $2.11B

For years, Johnson & Johnson has vowed to appeal each talc verdict it lost, and the company cited a “fundamentally unfair process” and “multiple errors” when jurors in St. Louis ordered the company to pay $4.69 billion to 22 women with ovarian cancer. 

Now, an appeals court has reduced that award—but only to $2.11 billion, thanks to J&J's "outrageous" and “reprehensible” defense of the product.

J&J brought 10 arguments in appeals, but the court found that plaintiffs "proved with convincing clarity that defendants engaged in outrageous conduct because of an evil motive or reckless indifference."

After reviewing the arguments, the judges found that J&J “discussed the presence of asbestos in their talc in internal memoranda for several decades; avoided adopting more accurate measures for detecting asbestos and influenced the industry to do the same; attempted to discredit those scientists publishing studies unfavorable to their products; and did not eliminate talc from the products and use cornstarch instead because it would be more costly to do so."

On the plaintiffs' side, the judges ruled their suffering was "physical, not just economic." The plaintiffs underwent chemotherapy and many other medical procedures, and some have died.

In a statement Tuesday, J&J said it continues to "believe this was a fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts, and will pursue further review of this case by the Supreme Court of Missouri.” 

“We deeply sympathize with anyone suffering from cancer, which is why the facts are so important,” a spokeswoman said. “We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos-free, and does not cause cancer.” 

RELATED: High-stakes talc trial ends in whopping $4.7B verdict for Johnson & Johnson 

After a 2018 trial, the St. Louis jury ordered the company to pay $25 million to each plaintiff in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages. The appeals judges ruled that because J&J and its consumer outfit are "large, multibillion-dollar corporations, we believe a large amount of punitive damages is necessary to have a deterrent effect in this case."

The appeals panel reduced the jury’s punitive damages to $1.615 billion. The judges also said two plaintiffs would have to bring their claims in another state because their cases didn't have a link to Missouri.

The ruling comes after J&J said it would discontinue talc-based powders in the U.S., citing a portfolio review brought on by the pandemic.