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$750 Million in Punitive Damages Awarded in NJ State Court Talc Trial

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel

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On February 6, 2020, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a New Jersey jury to pay four plaintiffs $750 million in punitive damages in the talc litigations. The punitive damages award, which was later reduced in accordance with New Jersey state law by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Ama C. Visomi to $186 million, comes on the heels of a separate jury trial awarding the plaintiffs $37.3 million in compensatory damages in September 2019.

The four plaintiffs in the case all alleged that they suffered from mesothelioma caused by repeated exposure to the asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder. The $37.5 million in compensatory damages award was comprised of a $7.25 million payment to plaintiff Douglas Barden and his wife; $9.45 million to David Etheridge and his wife; $14.7 million to D’Angela McNeill-George; and $5.9 million to Will Ronning (who passed away shortly after the award) and his wife. In the first trial, the jury found unanimously that the plaintiffs were exposed to asbestos from Johnson & Johnson talcum powder and voted 5-1 that the asbestos-tainted product was the cause of the plaintiffs’ mesothelioma.

The jury in the second trial found that Johnson & Johnson acted maliciously or in wanton and willful disregard of the rights of the plaintiffs. Punitive damages of $750 million was reduced to $186 million in order to conform with New Jersey law which states that punitive damages may only be a maximum of five times the amount of the compensatory damages. The reduced punitive damages were awarded as follows: $36.25 million for Douglas Barden and his wife; $47.25 million for David Etheridge and his wife; $73.5 million for D’Angela McNeill-George; and $29.5 million for deceased plaintiff Will Ronning and his wife.

The cases are: Barden et al. v. Brenntag North America et al., case number L-1809-17, Etheridge et al. v. Brenntag North America et al., case number L-0932-17, McNeill-George v. Brenntag North America et al., case number L-7049-16, and Ronning et al. v. Brenntag North America et al., case number L-6040-17, in the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey, County of Middlesex.

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