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Appeals court reduces J&J talc verdict but censures company

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri appeals court has reduced a talcum powder verdict against Johnson & Johnson by more than half, even while ruling that the company knowingly sold a product that caused cancer.

In the ruling announced Tuesday, the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals rejected the company's request to throw out a St. Louis jury's verdict in 2018 that awarded 22 plaintiffs $4.7 billion in response to claims that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder causes ovarian cancer.

But the appeals court reduced the verdict to $2.1 billion because some plaintiffs were from out of state and should not have been included, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Five of the 22 plaintiffs are Missouri residents or were before they died.

The appeals court agreed that the monetary damages were needed to show other companies the consequences of endangering the public with their products. “We find there was significant reprehensibility in defendants’ conduct," the ruling stated. “The harm suffered by plaintiffs was physical, not just economic.”

Plaintiffs' attorney Mark Lanier said the decision holds New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson accountable for its “misconduct.” In prior trials, the company’s lawyers rejected claims of asbestos in its baby powder and maintained that its products are safe. Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly issued statements denying any link between talc and ovarian cancer.

But it faces more than 19,000 lawsuits and in May, Johnson & Johnson announced it would stop selling baby powder in the U.S. and Canada. A company spokeswoman said the ruling will be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, calling the initial trial “fundamentally flawed.”

“We deeply sympathize with anyone suffering from cancer, which is why the facts are so important," company spokeswoman Kim Montagnino said in a statement. "We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free, and does not cause cancer.”

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