Johnson and Johnson ask for SCOTUS to throw out $2 billion payment
Daily Mail – 1 June 2021
Johnson & Johnson is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a $2 billion verdict in favour of women who claim the company’s baby powder played a role in them developing cancer.
The 22 women who filed a lawsuit against J&J were initially awarded $4.7 billion in 2018 in a state court in Missouri. They alleged that the talcum-based baby powder led to ovarian cancer.
A state appeals courts slashed $2.7 billion off the payment, but J&J hopes the rest will be thrown out as well.
Johnson and Johnson claims that the way the lawsuit was structured was unfair to the company, as attorneys had to argue multiple situations in one suit.
The company has since stopped selling their talcum-based powder in North America, now only selling the cornstarch-based version.
Talc is a mineral similar in structure to asbestos, which is known to cause cancer, and they are sometimes obtained from the same mines.
Last year, a U.S. led analysis of more than 250,000 women found no strong link between talc and ovarian cancer.
The study’s lead author called the results ‘ambiguous’ though, saying there are no conclusive results to be drawn from the analysis.
The cosmetics industry in 1976 agreed to make sure its talc products do not contain detectable amounts of asbestos.
Talc has also been linked to mesothelioma, with Vanderbilt Minerals paying out a settlement for their use of the chemical to a tile worker who developed cancer after working for the company in 2018.
WHY COULD TALCUM POWDER BE DANGEROUS?
Talcum powder is made of finely ground talc, a mineral which forms underground as a clay-like rock.
It is often mined from the same place as asbestos, a mineral known to cause lung disease.
While talc is used for the skin due to its softness and moisture-absorbing properties, asbestos was used for insulation.
Non-contaminated talc is completely safe but, if it is tainted with asbestos, there is a risk it could be damaging to health.
In the past, tests have shown traces of asbestos in talcum powder products.
About eight out of 10 people with mesothelioma – a type of lung cancer -have been exposed to asbestos. When asbestos fibres are breathed in, they travel to the ends of small air passages and reach the membranes of the thorax and lungs.
They can cause inflammation and scarring, damage cells’ DNA, or cause changes that result in uncontrolled cell growth.
If swallowed, these fibres can reach the abdominal lining, where they can cause mesothelioma.
Ovarian cancer is another cancer asbestos is believed to be linked to, and is at the heart of Johnson & Johnson lawsuits in which women have claimed talcum powder has given them the cancer. In some cases they have won and received million-dollar payouts from the company.
It is not clear why or how asbestos travels to ovarian tissues.
Last year J&J recalled 33,000 bottles of its baby powder after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found traces of asbestos in bottles purchased online.
A 2018 investigation by Reuters found that the company had known its baby powder contained the chemical for decades, with the earliest record being from the 1950s.
J&J denies that its talc products cause cancer and it called the verdict in the Missouri trial ‘at odds with decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, is not contaminated by asbestos and does not cause cancer.’
Tiger Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, pointed to how long it took the trial judge to read the jury its instructions as an indication of how unfair the trial was to J&J.
‘When a defendant is facing a case where it takes over five hours for the judge to read the jury instructions to the jury, you just have to ask yourself what are we doing here,’ said Joyce.
The American Tort Reform Association often backs limits on liability lawsuits.
The $1.6 billion in punitive damages is out of line and should be reduced, the company also argued in a brief that was written by Neal Katyal, a Washington lawyer who aligns with progressive causes and also represents corporate clients.
Katyal, who was the acting top Supreme Court lawyer in the Obama administration, declined an on-the-record interview with the Associated Press.
The U.S. Supreme Court will report by Tuesday whether or not it will take part in the case.
If it does, Justice Samuel Alito will not be taking part in the court proceedings for this case.
The justice reported that he owned $15,000 to $50,000 in Johnson & Johnson stock last year.
Federal law prohibits judges from sitting on cases in which they have financial interest.