U.S. pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was on Thursday ordered to pay out $4.69 billion in damages in a lawsuit representing 22 women and their families who alleged a talc sold by the company contained asbestos and caused them to suffer cancer.
German shares of the company fell as much as 3.59 euros to 105.48 euros ($122.65) after closing at $127.76 Thursday in NY.
But Johnson & Johnson said in its statement that the trial was "a fundamentally unfair process", noting most of the women were not from Missouri, where the testimonies were heard.
Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson had covered up evidence of asbestos in its products for more than 40 years.
The verdict is the largest the company has faced to date over allegations that its products, including baby powder, cause cancer. "The multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed". The jurors then deliberated over how much to award in punishment damages. "More research is needed to work out what role, if any, talc use plays in ovarian cancer".
He said the $4.14 billion in punitive damages was derived from a formula that included the annual revenue from baby powder ($70 million) along with the number of years talc has been an issue.
Johnson & Johnson knew its talc products were contaminated with asbestos and kept this information from reaching the public, Mark Lanier, the plaintiffs' lawyer told jurors in his closing argument on Wednesday.
"If there were a link, any increase in risk would be fairly small, and as ovarian cancer is a relatively rare disease, overall women who use talc would still have a low chance of developing the disease".
This latest ovarian cancer case, that was decided on Thursday, was one of the first times that lawyers successfully argued the Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talcum powder contained asbestos.
"Some (of the plaintiffs) are truly on their death bed and fighting for every day of their lives, and several of them came back for the jury verdict and were hugging the necks of those jurors", said Lanier. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas.
A state trial court jury on Thursday handed up a $4.69 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson. However, this and a $72 million award in a separate case were both overturned on the basis of insufficient evidence and alleged jury misconduct in setting high damages. Cramer, who at one point advised J&J to put a warning on its products, has become a frequent expert witness for women suing the company. Yesterday, a St. Louis jury awarded $4.7 billion to 22 women who were part of a class-action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson.
Pharmaceutical companies use talc to produce talcum powder, among other products.