The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to reverse a $2.1 billion verdict for plaintiffs who claim the company’s talc powder products gave them ovarian cancer.
The pharmaceutical company, which developed the Janssen COVID vaccine, asked the top court to review the verdict, arguing it didn’t receive a fair trial in Missouri where the court awarded a $4.7 billion payout to 22 women who developed ovarian cancer.
The verdict was reduced to $2.1 billion in June 2020, by a Missouri court of appeals.
J&J stopped selling talc powder products in the U.S. and Canada last year. But the company still faces more than 21,800 lawsuits alleging asbestos in its talc powder products, including baby powder, caused ovarian cancer.
Ken Starr, a prosecutor representing women who sued J&J, wrote in court briefings that the pharma company “knew for decades that their talc powders contained asbestos, a highly carcinogenic substance with no known safe exposure level.”
“They could have protected customers by switching from talc to cornstarch, as their own scientists proposed as early as 1973. But talc was cheaper and petitioners were unwilling to sacrifice profits for a safer product.”
J&J maintains its baby powder is safe and does not contain asbestos or cause cancer.
The lawsuits linking talc powder to cancer aren’t the first time J&J has been sued over the safety of its products.
Other major J&J lawsuits and recalls for faulty products include:
- 1995: $7.5 million fine for destroying documents to cover up an investigation into wrongful marketing of its Retin-A acne cream to remove wrinkles.
- 1996: An undisclosed settlement on false claims over condom protection claims to protect against HIV and other STDs.
- 2001: Paid out $860 million in a class action lawsuit for misleading customers about prematurely discarding its 1-Day Acuvue soft contact lens. J&J recommended they should be worn only once, although it was discovered the lenses were no different than the regular Acuvue lens that would last for two weeks.
- 2010: $81 million settlement for misbranding its anti-epileptic drug Topamax to treat psychiatric disorders and hiring outside physicians to join its sales force to promote the drug for unapproved conditions. The following year, J&J paid $85 million for similar charges against its heart drug Natrecor.
- 2011: Several J&J baby products were discovered to contain carcinogenic ingredients.
- 2013: The U,S. Justice Department charged the company $2.2 billion in criminal fines for marketing its autism and anti-psychotic drug Risperdal for unapproved uses. Forty-five states had filed civil lawsuits against J&J in the scandal. Janssen also had an aggressive campaign to market Risperdal for use in children with behavioral challenges. Other serious adverse effects from Risperdal reported by the FDA include diabetes mellitus, hyperprolactinaemia, somnolence, depression, anxiety, psychotic behavior, suicide and death.