LAWSUITS
Mo. judge upholds verdict in J&J talc case

Johnson & Johnson failed to persuade a Missouri trial judge to set aside a July verdict awarding a record $4.69 billion to 22 women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in the company’s Baby Powder and other talc products.

The health-care company faces thousands of lawsuits over the safety of talc in its Baby Powder. The trial was the first in which plaintiffs claimed that asbestos fibers in J&J’s talc caused ovarian cancer. It relied on unsealed internal company documents detailing J&J’s alleged knowledge of asbestos contamination since at least the 1970s.

The company, which says its Baby Powder does not contain asbestos and is safe, in a statement said the failed motion was merely a formal step required before appealing the verdict.

Judge Rex Burlison in the ruling Wednesday said the jury’s decision and the large award of punitive damages was justified based on J&J’s “particularly reprehensible conduct” as evidenced during trial.

— Reuters

HOUSING
Existing-home sales rose in November

U.S. home sales increased in November for the second straight month, but sales plummeted 7 percent from a year ago amid growing affordability pressures.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that sales of existing homes rose 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.32 million last month. But higher mortgage rates have caused sales over the past 12 months to plunge at the steepest pace since May 2011, when the real estate sector was in the grips of the housing bust.

— Associated Press

RIDE-HAILING INDUSTRY
Uber loses appeal on driver status in U.K.

Uber pledged Wednesday to challenge a U.K. Court of Appeal decision that drivers should be classed as workers rather than be considered self-employed, a verdict that has potentially wide-ranging implications for the rapidly growing gig economy.

The challenge sets up a showdown in Britain’s Supreme Court that will determine whether the drivers will be able to claim the rights open to workers, such as the minimum wage and paid holidays.

Unions rejoiced at Uber’s third loss on the issue. “Uber should just accept the verdict and stop trying to find loopholes that deprive people of their hard-won rights and hard-earned pay,” said Tim Roache, the general-secretary of the GMB union.

Uber, which has sought under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to improve its image, noted the decision was not unanimous “and does not reflect the reasons why the vast majority of drivers choose to use the Uber app.”

— Associated Press

Also in Business

Allergan will stop selling and recall remaining supplies of some of its breast implant products in Europe, after French regulators requested they be pulled off the market after their clearance lapsed. The firm's decision to pull its textured breast implants and tissue expanders also follows several media reports that cited cases of a rare cancer in patients who got the implants. The products are used in breast augmentation and enhancement.

Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch InBev has joined the growing ranks of alcohol giants venturing into the cannabis industry through a research partnership with Canadian pot firm Tilray Inc. The companies said Wednesday they will conduct research into nonalcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages. Each company will invest up to $50 million in the partnership, which is limited to Canada. Decisions about commercialization will be made later, as marijuana edibles and beverages won't be legal in Canada until next year.

— From news services

Coming today

10 a.m.: Mortgage company Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.