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J&J Talc Plaintiffs: It Pays to Persevere

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Johnson and Johnson’s last ditch effort to avoid paying 20 women with ovarian cancer $2.1 billion has been refused by the U.S. Supreme Court

Washington, DCTwenty women who sued Johnson and Johnson, claiming its baby powder was key in their ovarian cancers, stuck to their guns: the U.S. Supreme Court won’t overturn a $2.1 billion against J&J, which was cut from a 2018 Missouri Court verdict of $4.7 billion. These women persevered through an exhaustive and harrowing court battle including the company’s last ditch appeal in March. But nine women have died from ovarian cancer since the trial began six years ago.

J&J did not get its “get out of jail free card”, quipped Mark Lanier, lead lawyer for the talc users, earlier this year.

The Missouri Court of Appeals found that, from evidence determining Johnson & Johnson’s failure to warn about the ovarian cancer risk from talc was motivated by profits, it was reasonable for a jury to justify damages. And after the Missouri Supreme Court refused to consider a further review of the case in November 2020, J&J had exhausted its appeals -- except for this final kick at the can.

J&J Petition to Supreme Court


In its March 2021 press release announcing a filing for a Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, J&J argued the verdict should be overturned based on mistakes made during the trial. “This was a fundamentally flawed trial in which numerous legal errors allowed a faulty presentation of facts, resulting in an incorrect verdict and arbitrary and disproportionate damages,” J&J stated. The press release went on to say about 24 different plaintiffs obscured difficult causation questions.

This petition was J&J’s last kick at the can to appeal the Missouri Supreme Court’s refusal in November 2020 to consider a further review of the decision by a panel of judges who awarded plaintiffs $500 million in compensatory damages, plus another $1.62 billion in punitive damages. In April 2020, U.S. District Judge Wolfsen presiding over the federal litigation (Case 3:16-md-02738-FLW-LHG) rejected J&J’s arguments and found expert opinions provided by plaintiffs were sufficiently reliable and sound enough to allow the J&J talc cancer cases to proceed to trial.


(A Writ of Certiorari is an order whereby a higher court reviews a decision of a lower court; it is only granted in about 3% of all civil lawsuit appeals filed with the highest court in the country.)

According to Bloomberg, (Feb 2021) Johnson& Johnson told investors it set aside $4 billion to cover the biggest verdict against the company over its baby powder and other settlements while appealing to the US Supreme Court it 2018 loss.  Reuters said the drugmaker set aside $3.9 billion in litigation expenses in 2020, which J&J said was “primarily associated with talc-related reserves and certain settlements”.J&J is facing over 25,000 lawsuits filed by former baby powder users claiming Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower talc laced with asbestos directly caused their cancers. But the world’s biggest pharma company (by revenue) has continually marketed itself as family-friendly and still claims its talcum powder is safe and does not cause cancer.

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