Johnson & Johnson's last-ditch appeal of $2B talc verdict falls short at Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has rejected Johnson & Johnson’s appeal of a $2.11 billion verdict for women who developed ovarian cancer from the company’s talc-based products. 

The judgement reaffirms a Missouri state court decision, the culmination of a series of lawsuits that maintained that J&J’s talc products contained asbestos and other carcinogens. Last November, the state’s Supreme Court refused an appeal by J&J, leaving the company with this last-ditch effort.  

J&J argued that a trial with 22 cancer patients from 12 states was unfair, adding undue emotional weight to the proceedings and stripping the company of its ability to address claims on a case-by-case basis. 

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson’s $2B talc verdict stands after Missouri Supreme Court turns away its appeal

The company disputes that its talc products contain asbestos and that asbestos-laced talc can cause ovarian cancer. Last year, J&J stopped selling Johnson’s Baby Powder in the United States and Canada, citing a portfolio review brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bowing out of the decision were Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, who owns J&J stock, and Brett Kavanaugh, whose father led a trade association that lobbied against labeling talc a carcinogen and including a warning label on talc products.

The trial dates to 2018, when jurors ordered J&J to pay $4.69 billion to the 22 plaintiffs. In the summer of 2020, the Missouri Court of Appeals adjusted the verdict to $2.11 billion, while also saying that the company engaged in “reprehensible conduct” in defense of its product, “because of an evil motive or reckless indifference.”

With interest, the verdict grew to $2.5 billion as of April 4, J&J said in a quarterly filing

RELATED: J&J scores backing from Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA and more in Supreme Court appeal of $2.1B talc verdict

In appealing to the Supreme Court, J&J rallied support from the Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA and other organizations. But flipping a state decision isn’t easy. Of the 7,000 cases it’s asked to review each year, the high court takes up between 100 and 150 of them. 

J&J has had to battle more than 21,000 talc-related lawsuits and has come away with many wins, including in April when a New Jersey court overturned a $117 million verdict, ruling that a 2018 judgement shouldn’t have allowed certain expert testimony.