In an unprecedented event, a New Jersey jury imposed a verdict of three-quarters of a million dollars in punitive fines to Johnson & Johnson over claims that the corporation had wantonly disregarded public health concerns in marketing their asbestos-contaminated talcum powder product. The Johnson & Johnson talc fine was later reduced to $186 million, but the message that the jury intended was clear.
On Feb. 4, 2020 the jury responsible for assigning Johnson & Johnson punitive damages concluded the five-month deliberation that began when a separate jury fined Johnson & Johnson $37.7 million in compensatory damages for plaintiffs Will Ronning, D'Angela McNeill-George, Douglas Barden and David Etheridge, who claimed they were exposed to asbestos in J&J's baby powder that caused their terminal cancer.
Both juries found that the Johnson & Johnson talc fine amounts were proportionally appropriate for the corporation’s conduct, which was stated to be either malicious or wantonly and willfully ignorant of the rights of the terminally ill plaintiffs, according to Law360.com.
When discussing the amount for the Johson & Johnson talc fine, the plaintiff’s attorney Chris J. Panatier told the jurors on Thursday: "When you think about the punitive damages — what number punishes and deters them — you’ve got to think in Johnson & Johnson terms." Panatier also reminded the jurors that Johnson & Johnson’s assets and net worth combined to over $213 billion and the jury’s fine "cannot be a number that [J&J] would laugh at."
At this time it is not clear whether Johnson & Johnson will appeal the punitive damages levied against them.