The Missouri Court of Appeals on Tuesday 23-6-2020 upheld upheld a $2.1 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson, finding the company knew there was asbestos in their baby powder.
The plaintiff, a woman with ovarian cancer, blamed the asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products for her illness. She was one of the thousands to file lawsuits against the company, but the damages awarded to her was almost half the $4.4 billion awarded in 2018 to 22 people over a similar complaint.
The court while awarding this amount observed as under
“High-ratio punitive damage awards are sometimes necessary in order to have a sufficient deterrent effect.” See Blanks, 450 S.W.3d at 411. Indeed, “[a] much larger amount of punitive damages is required to have a deterrent effect on a multi-billion dollar corporation than a smaller business.” Poage, 523 S.W.3d at 524. “………………………………. Because Defendants are large, multi-billion dollar corporations, we believe a large amount of punitive damages is necessary to have a deterrent effect in this case. However, based on the evidence, we believe a larger amount of Punitive damages is needed to deter J&J’s conduct than JJCI’s conduct.
“Regardless of culpability, however, heavier punitive awards have been thought to be justifiable when wrongdoing is hard to detect.” Id.; see also Gore, 517 U.S. at 582 (“A higher ratio may also be justified in cases in which the injury is hard to detect or the monetary value of noneconomic harm might have been difficult to determine.”).
The court justified the grant of extensive damages as a necessity in order to deter J&J from ever repeating this. Punitive damages are ordinarily made considering the extent of loss caused to the affected party however in the present case the court felt that the injury suffered by the claimant was so extraordinary that it could not be put up only in numbers. Therefore it was considered apt that damages be assessed as a form of compensation coming from the court, which will act as form of deterrence on big corporations such as J&J.
“It is impossible to place monetary value on the physical, mental, and emotional anguish Plaintiffs suffered because of their injury caused by Defendants. In addition, Plaintiffs adduced evidence ovarian cancer can take many years to develop after exposure to an asbestos-containing product. The time between the use of Defendants’ asbestos-containing Products and the manifestation of symptoms of ovarian cancer makes it difficult to detect the harm they suffered. ”
The court later upheld the order that had awarded the claimant damages shooting down the counter argument that the awarded amount was not assessed on the grounds of “Reasonableness”
Considering all three guideposts, we find the punitive damages awards assessed against Defendants, as adjusted, are not grossly excessive considering Defendants’ actions of knowingly selling Products that contained asbestos to consumers. ………………………….. Accordingly, we enter judgment for $500 million in actual damages against JJCI and $125 million in actual damages against J&J jointly and severally with JJCI. We further enter judgment for $900 million in punitive damages against JJCI and $715,909,091 in punitive damages against J&J
While Johnson & Johnson has agreed to suspend sales of talcum powder in North America, they will continue to market the product in every other country.
Please see the order: