NJ Judge Affirms Punitive Damages Award Against Johnson & Johnson in Baby Powder Case

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Johnson and Johnson baby powder spilling over onto wooden table.A New Jersey state judge upheld the $186 million in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Johnson’s Baby Powder. In the ruling, the judge cited the company’s “direct lies” to consumers and regulators.

Superior Court Judge Ana C. Viscomi denied the company's motions to set aside or reduce that award following a trial earlier this year, saying jurors could find by "clear and convincing evidence presented" that J&J engaged in a series of misdeeds.

Those findings include that "J&J knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos for decades" but did not provide that information to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and advocated for testing methodology "that it knew was not sensitive enough to detect asbestos," according to the judge.

The judge also noted that J&J lied to the FDA by "editing unfavorable test results from reports" and lied to consumers by claiming a cleansing procedure "removed all impurities" from its talc powder products when the company knew it did not remove certain types of asbestos.

"J&J's conduct here was reprehensible," Judge Viscomi said in issuing her decisions via telephone, later adding: "The award, modified by the Punitive Damages Act, is not so clearly disproportionate to the injury and does not shock the conscience of the court."

This is a huge blow to Johnson & Johnson which faces hundreds of lawsuits concerning its once ubiquitous product. Johnson & Johnson has often said that faulty testing, shoddy science and ill-equipped researchers are to blame for findings that its powder was contaminated with asbestos. But in recent years, thousands of people — mostly women with ovarian cancer — have said that the company did not warn them of potential risks that the company was discussing internally.

According to an earlier article in the NY Times, “Early lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson claimed the talc itself caused ovarian cancer, though the scientific evidence on that was never conclusive. Plaintiffs’ lawyers later shifted their focus, arguing that traces of asbestos — an indisputable and much-feared carcinogen — were present in talc and capable of causing cancer even in microscopic amounts.

Asbestos contamination can occur when talc is mined, because both minerals can be intermingled underground, and internal memos and reports unearthed during litigation revealed that the company had been concerned for at least 50 years about the possibility of traces of asbestos in its talc. Asbestos was first linked to ovarian cancer in 1958.

The revelation of these company documents also prompted inquiries by the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as congressional committees and authorities in Mississippi and New Mexico.”

Punitive damages, unlike compensatory damages, are awarded when the defendant’s behavior is particularly egregious. The decision to allow such damages is within the purview of the court. In order to successfully argue for punitive damages, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the defendant engaged in wanton or willful misconduct. In the New Jersey case against Johnson & Johnson, the judge was unsparing in her opinion that J&J engaged in such conduct and should be punished appropriately.

A New Jersey state judge upheld the $186 million in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Johnson’s Baby Powder. In the ruling, the judge cited the company’s “direct lies” to consumers and regulators.

Superior Court Judge Ana C. Viscomi denied the company's motions to set aside or reduce that award following a trial earlier this year, saying jurors could find by "clear and convincing evidence presented" that J&J engaged in a series of misdeeds.

Those findings include that "J&J knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos for decades" but did not provide that information to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and advocated for testing methodology "that it knew was not sensitive enough to detect asbestos," according to the judge.

The judge also noted that J&J lied to the FDA by "editing unfavorable test results from reports" and lied to consumers by claiming a cleansing procedure "removed all impurities" from its talc powder products when the company knew it did not remove certain types of asbestos.

"J&J's conduct here was reprehensible," Judge Viscomi said in issuing her decisions via telephone, later adding: "The award, modified by the Punitive Damages Act, is not so clearly disproportionate to the injury and does not shock the conscience of the court."

This is a huge blow to Johnson & Johnson which faces hundreds of lawsuits concerning its once ubiquitous product. Johnson & Johnson has often said that faulty testing, shoddy science and ill-equipped researchers are to blame for findings that its powder was contaminated with asbestos. But in recent years, thousands of people — mostly women with ovarian cancer — have said that the company did not warn them of potential risks that the company was discussing internally.

According to an earlier article in the NY Times, “Early lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson claimed the talc itself caused ovarian cancer, though the scientific evidence on that was never conclusive. Plaintiffs’ lawyers later shifted their focus, arguing that traces of asbestos — an indisputable and much-feared carcinogen — were present in talc and capable of causing cancer even in microscopic amounts.

Asbestos contamination can occur when talc is mined, because both minerals can be intermingled underground, and internal memos and reports unearthed during litigation revealed that the company had been concerned for at least 50 years about the possibility of traces of asbestos in its talc. Asbestos was first linked to ovarian cancer in 1958.

The revelation of these company documents also prompted inquiries by the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as congressional committees and authorities in Mississippi and New Mexico.”

Punitive damages, unlike compensatory damages, are awarded when the defendant’s behavior is particularly egregious. The decision to allow such damages is within the purview of the court. In order to successfully argue for punitive damages, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the defendant engaged in wanton or willful misconduct. In the New Jersey case against Johnson & Johnson, the judge was unsparing in her opinion that J&J engaged in such conduct and should be punished appropriately.

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