The Supreme Court of the United States rejected this Tuesday to review an appeal filed by Johnson & Johnson in which it asked not to pay the multimillion-dollar compensation dictated by a jury due to the use of asbestos in its talc products (including baby powder), which caused ovarian cancer in more than 20 women.
The highest court in the nation thus ends years of litigation. Johnson & Johnson had asked the Supreme Court to consider his case following the amount imposed on him by the Supreme Court of Missouri last year, which amounted to more than 2.1 billion dollars. A previous appeal by J&J, in a court in that state, lowered the penalty from more than 4,000 million for 22 women and their families – who had fallen ill after using the product – to the current 2,100.
The dispute between the North American multinational and the plaintiffs has been brutal. The company was represented by a former attorney general – Neal Katyal – and the women with cancer who sued the multinational (based in New Jersey) Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor who led the investigation into Bill Clinton’s sex life that led to its impeachment in 1998. Starr was also signed by Donald Trump to defend him in his first impeachment.
According to the Missouri court that sanctioned the cosmetic giant, the company had “knowingly sold products containing asbestos to consumers.” Starr emphasized in his brief for the Supreme Court to reject the revision of the conviction that Johnson & Johnson “knew for decades that its talcum powder contained asbestos, a highly carcinogenic substance.” “They could have protected consumers by switching from talc to a derivative of corn, as the company’s own scientists proposed in 1973. But talc was cheaper and managers did not want to sacrifice profit for a safer product,” Starr wrote.
For the company, the Supreme Court decision has nothing to do with “product safety.” The multinational indicated that the Supreme Court’s decision “leaves important legal issues in the air that state and federal courts will continue to face.” The battle Johnson & Johnson has faced has been monumental – more than 9,000 lawsuits across the United States. In its defense, J&J has always used the argument that talc was a safe and asbestos-free product. In 2018, the agency that supervises food safety (FDA) carried out a study with a sample of the product in which it did not detect the presence of this carcinogenic fiber. “It’s all a conspiracy,” the company’s lawyers assessed then.
In 2012, the corporation announced that it would remove potentially health-damaging components from its adult hygiene and cosmetic items. In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson reported that it would stop selling its baby powder in the United States and Canada. The giant of hygiene and pharmacy products assured that the decision was based on “the reassessment of the portfolio of consumer products related to covid-19”.
Reuters reported in late 2018 that the company had known for 40 years that there were small amounts of the carcinogen asbestos in its products. The firm has always denied it.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.