(CNN) – The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday it will not review a lower court opinion that awarded a $ 2 billion verdict in a case brought by a group of women who sued Johnson & Johnson after developing ovarian cancer. which they say was due to asbestos exposure in talcum powder the company makes.
Tens of thousands of lawsuits have been filed against J&J and other companies that make talcum powder. J&J had sold the talc-based powder, Johnson’s Baby Powder, for over 100 years and created several other products using talc. Talc is one of the softest minerals that can reduce friction and has a great ability to absorb oils and odors.
Neither Judge Samuel Alito nor Brett Kavanaugh participated in the court’s review of the case. Although they did not explain what they thought, it is likely that Alito owned shares in the company and Kavanaugh’s father worked with a trade association linked to Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson had asked the Supreme Court to review a June 2020 decision from a Missouri court of appeals. That ruling had reduced a lower court decision in which a jury awarded 22 plaintiffs $ 4.7 billion when the women claimed that regular use of J & J’s talcum powder caused them ovarian cancer. The company had asked that court to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.
Instead, the appeals court reduced the verdict to $ 2.1 billion since some of the women who sued lived out of state. It also eliminated two of the plaintiffs. Otherwise, it confirmed the outcome of the trial, as the court found “significant reprehensibility in (J & J’s) conduct” and said that J&J exposed consumers to asbestos for several decades “without regard for health and safety. of others”.
During the trial, the attorneys filed internal memos showing that J&J had discussed the presence of asbestos in its talc products for several decades. The plaintiffs told the appeals court that J&J “knew about the danger of asbestos,” tried to discredit scientists who published unfavorable studies on J&J products, and decided not to swap talcum powder for cornstarch because it was expensive.
“A victory for justice”
Mark Lanier, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, called Tuesday’s ruling a “victory for justice.”
“This was a victory not only for the wonderful women and their families whom we were privileged to represent, but a victory for justice,” Lanier told CNN. “This result is exactly what separates the United States from the rest of the world. This decision sends a clear message to the rich and powerful: You will be held to account when you cause serious harm under our equal justice system under the law.
In a statement Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson said the court’s action “leaves unresolved important legal issues that state and federal courts will continue to face on issues related to due process rights and personal jurisdiction.”
The company added: “The issues that were before the court are related to legal procedure and not security. Decades of independent scientific evaluations confirm that Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer.
Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder
In May 2020, J&J announced that it would stop shipping talc-based baby powder to the United States and Canada. The company had said at the time that it had reassessed its products in light of the novel coronavirus in March and stopped shipping hundreds of items, including talc-based powder, so it could prioritize its high-demand products.
The company’s cornstarch-based powder remains on the market.
Some scientific studies have shown that women have an increased risk of ovarian cancer with the use of talc in the genital area, but others do not. Most studies suggest that more research is needed.
A separate set of lawsuits linked talc products to mesothelioma. Scientists in those trials testified that they found asbestos in samples of the product. The company argued that it conducted extensive testing to make sure its products did not contain asbestos. Talc is often mined close to asbestos and studies have shown that there is a risk of cross contamination during extraction, but since the 1970s talc products were required to be asbestos free.