(Reuters) – A Missouri jury on Thursday found Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) liable in a lawsuit filed by 22 women who alleged the company’s talc-based products, including J&J Baby Powder, contain asbestos and caused them ovarian cancer, and ordered the company to pay $550 million in compensatory damages.
The jury also unanimously decided to award punitive damages, the amount of which will be determined during a second stage of the trial.
The trial was the largest case that J&J has yet faced over allegations that its talcum powder products cause cancer. The verdict in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis came down after a more than five-week-long trial during which jurors heard testimony by nearly a dozen experts. The jury deliberated for less than a day.
The women and their families said decades-long use of J&J’s Baby Powder and other cosmetic talc products caused their disease. They allege the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos since at least the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks.
J&J denies both that its talc products cause cancer and that they ever contained asbestos, citing decades of studies showing its talc to be safe.
Talc, the world’s softest rock, is a mineral closely linked to asbestos and the two substances can appear in close proximity in the earth. Plaintiffs claim the two get intermingled in the mining process, making it impossible to remove the carcinogenic substance. J&J denies those allegations, saying rigorous testing and purification processes ensure its talc is clean.
Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Leslie Adler and Tom Brown