The Supreme Court of the United States last Tuesday rejected to review an appeal requested by Johnson & Johnson Company, 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 nation’s highest court thus ends years of litigation. Johnson & Johnson had requested that the Supreme Court consider its case following the amount imposed on it by the Supreme Court of Missouri last year, which amounted to over US$ 2.1 billion (around € 1.724 million). An earlier appeal by J&J in a court in that state lowered the penalty from more than US$ 4 billion for 22 women and their families -who had fallen ill after using the product- to the current US$ 2.1 billion.
The dispute between the 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 his impeachment, in 1998. Starr was also signed by Donald Trump to defend him during his first impeachment.
A study questions the presumed link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer According to the Missouri court that sanctioned the cosmetic giant, the company had sold consumers “products despite knowing that they contained asbestos”, Starr emphasized in his brief report that the Supreme Court would reject such a revision with the conviction that Johnson & Johnson “knew it, for decades, that its talcum powder contained asbestos, which is a highly carcinogenic substance”.
Moreover, 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”, wrote Starr.
For the cosmetic company, the Supreme Court decision has nothing to deal 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 legal battle Johnson & Johnson has faced ever since has been monumental -more than 9,000 lawsuits across the United States.
In its own defense, the firm has always used the argument that talc was a safe and asbestos-free product. Regarding this, the FDA, which supervises food safety condition, conducted, in 2018, a study through a product sample in which scientists did not detect the presence of this carcinogenic fiber. “It is all a conspiracy”, the company’s lawyers staff 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 both in the United States and Canada. The hygiene and pharmacy products giant assured that such a decision was based on “the reevaluation of the portfolio of consumer products related to Covid-19“.
Reuters reported, at the end of 2018, that this company had known for 40 years that there were small amounts of the carcinogen asbestos in its products. Despite that, the multinational firm has always denied such accusations.