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$550 million awarded in lawsuit linking cancer, baby powder

ST. LOUIS - After six weeks of hearing evidence and testimony, a St. Louis jury Thursday awarded $550 million in damages and another $4.14 billion in punitive damages to 22 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson that claimed asbestos in the company's talcum powder caused the plaintiffs to develop ovarian cancer.

“The money really isn’t the important part," said plaintiff Gail Ingham from O'Fallon, Missouri. "It’s for women to find out what was in talc.”

There have been other talcum powder cases in the past, but this was the first to claim Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder contains asbestos and that the exposure to asbestos caused ovarian cancer in the 22 plaintiffs.

Mark Lanier, the Houston-based lawyer for the plaintiffs, presented jurors with internal company documents revealing Johnson & Johnson knew of the asbestos in its products and failed to warn consumers. He said company knowledge of the asbestos dates back more than 40 years.

Ingham was 41 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She said she used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder regularly, even up until the day she went in for cancer surgery.

“You no longer plan things in years," said Ingham. "Every day you have to worry, ‘Did it reoccur?’ ‘Are you going to see your children grow up?’ ‘Are you even going to see your grandchildren?’ And it makes a huge difference.”

Of the 22 plaintiffs in this case, five are Missouri residents. Six of the 22 plaintiffs have died from ovarian cancer, including two from Missouri.

After court was adjourned, the plaintiffs and their families had a chance to speak with the people who decided the fate of this case.

"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. “They were crying, they were emotional, they were showing pictures of their family, they were asking about the jurors’ families.”

After the punitive damages were announced, a spokesperson from Johnson & Johnson released this statement:

“Johnson & Johnson is deeply disappointed in the verdict, which was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer. The result of the verdict, which awarded the exact same amounts to all plaintiffs irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable law, reflects that the evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding. Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer and intends to pursue all available appellate remedies. Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed.”

Ingham has been cancer-free going on 33 years. She is enjoying every moment with her family, including a two-year-old grandson. She even wrote a book to help others going through an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

“It’s a long journey, and it never stops, and I’m fortunate I’m still here 32 years later.”