Johnson & Johnson has been defending against claims its talc-based powders cause cancers for years, and, with a new ruling against the drugmaker in Missouri, it’s preparing to challenge a massive verdict at the U.S. Supreme Court.
After a Missouri appeals court this summer lowered a 2018 talc verdict against the drugmaker to $2.11 billion, J&J pledged to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court. That court has now refused to take up the appeal—and J&J says it'll take its case higher.
But it's far from certain to get a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court, either. Of the 7,000 cases it's asked to review each year, the high court takes up 100 to 150 of them, according to U.S. government figures.
J&J is challenging the verdict because the case featured a "fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” a spokeswoman said. The verdict is "at odds with decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer," she added.
In a statement Tuesday, plaintiffs' attorney Kevin Parker said the appellate court "carefully considered the instructions and verdict rendered at the trial court, and the resulting opinion presented a fair and reasonable resolution of the claims."
It’s now “clear” that J&J should “accept the findings of the jury and the appellate court and move forward with proper compensation to the victims of their baby powder products,” Parker added.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing Tuesday, J&J said it’ll record a $2.1 billion reserve in its 2020 results.
The verdict stems back to a 2018 trial combining the claims of 22 women who alleged the company’s talc powder caused their ovarian cancer. Originally, jurors ordered the company to pay $4.69 billion, but this summer the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District lowered the verdict to $2.11 billion, saying J&J engaged in “reprehensible conduct” in defense of its talc powder.
The court found that plaintiffs "proved with convincing clarity that defendants engaged in outrageous conduct because of an evil motive or reckless indifference."
Also this year, J&J stopped selling talc powders in the U.S., citing a portfolio review brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid J&J’s yearslong talc defense, juries in multiple states have ordered the company to pay sizable verdicts. But the drugmaker has successfully appealed; courts have struck down most of the verdicts. Still, the company faces about 21,800 talc lawsuits, according to its most recent quarterly filing with the SEC.
The drugmaker recently moved to settle about 1,000 lawsuits for more than $100 million, Bloomberg reported last month.