US drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson (J&J) will have to pay punitive damages of $750 million to four plaintiffs who allege that the company’s baby powder caused their cancers.
The plaintiffs have already been awarded $37.2 million as compensation for cancers they blamed on asbestos in the talc-based product.
Shortly after the ruling on Thursday, the judge indicated she intended to lower the number to $185 million because of state laws. Under New Jersey law, punitive damages are capped at five times the amount of compensatory damages.
“The jury listened to all of the evidence and apparently determined there is a need for deterrence” to ensure consumers are aware of the talc-based powders’ health risks, said Christopher Placitella, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The pharmaceutical giant said in a statement it would quickly appeal both phases of the trial, citing “numerous legal errors that subjected the jury to irrelevant information and prevented them from hearing meaningful evidence.”
The company is facing more than 16,000 lawsuits which allege it has sold powders contaminated with asbestos and failed to warn users. J&J denies that its 135-year-old baby powder line causes cancer, pointing to numerous studies and tests by regulators worldwide that have shown its talc to be safe and asbestos-free.