The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a bid by Johnson & Johnson to throw out a $2 billion verdict against the company from 2018, in which it was alleged the company’s talc-based baby powder caused ovarian cancer in some women.
Johnson & Johnson requested the verdict be thrown out on Monday.
The 22 women who filed a lawsuit against J&J were initially awarded $4.7 billion in 2018 in a state court in Missouri.
A state appeals courts slashed $2.7 billion off the payment, but J&J hoped the rest would be thrown out as well.
J&J claims the way the lawsuit was structured was unfair to the company because a judge allowed the plaintiffs to consolidate disparate baby powder-related claims meaning attorneys had to argue multiple claims in one suit.
The company has since stopped selling its talcum-based powder in North America, now only selling the cornstarch-based version.
Johnson and Johnson is hoping to throw out a $2 billion verdict reached against them in 2018 after it was ruled their talc based baby powder played a role in some women developing ovarian cancer. The company argues that the nature of the trial was unfair.
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.
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 Missouri Court of Appeals, an intermediate state appellate court, last year ruled against J&J’s bid to throw out the compensatory and punitive damages awarded to the plaintiffs but reduced the total to $2.12 billion from the $4.69 billion originally decided by a jury.
In addition to reducing the damages, the Missouri Court of Appeals dismissed two of the 17 out-of-state plaintiffs.
J&J said in a statement that there are unresolved legal issues that will continue to be litigated.
It previously has said it faces more than 19,000 similar claims.
‘The matters that were before the court are related to legal procedure, and not safety. Decades of independent scientific evaluations confirm Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,’ the company said.
J&J shares were down about 1.2% at $167.23.
Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the appeal, likely because he owns J&J stock.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose father – now retired – was a longtime lobbyist for the toiletries industry, also did not take part. The justices do not explain why they step aside in certain cases. Read more: