BREAKING: Johnson & Johnson slammed with $72 MILLION verdict for causing ovarian cancer in Missouri woman
A Missouri jury has ordered pharmaceutical and health giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer after using the company’s talc-based baby powder for decades. The jury found that J&J was aware of research linking talc to cancer, but deliberately chose to cover it up rather than warning consumers.
It is the first time a U.S. jury has awarded damages in a case claiming health effects of using talc.
“This case clearly was a bellwether and clearly the jury has seen the evidence and found it compelling,” said law professor Nora Freeman Engstrom of Stanford University. “The jury was distressed by the company’s conduct.”
Company knew about risks for decades
Researchers remain split on the exact nature of the connection between talc and cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies talc as a “possible” carcinogen.
Two strong meta-analyses, however, have suggested serious health risks for women regularly exposed to talc. A 2003 review of 16 studies conducted on a total of 12,000 women, found that regular talc use caused ovarian cancer risk to increase by about one-third. A 2013 review of studies on a total of 18,000 women, found a similar risk increase, but only for talc applied directly to the genital region.
The family of Jackie Fox of Birmingham, Ala., sued J&J, alleging that the company knew of the risks of talc for decades. After five days of deliberation, the jury agreed, finding the company “guilty of negligence, failure to warn and conspiracy to conceal the risks of its products.”
According to Alexandra Scranton, director of science and research at Women’s Voices for the Earth, the case shows how far companies will go to sell their products, even if they are harming people. J&J sought to take advantage of the scientific uncertainty around talc, Scranton said. Rather than taking the “clearly more ethical role, to take a precautionary approach,” she said, the company “poured money over years into defending talc.”
A juror named Jerome Kendrick said that he voted for the guilty verdict largely based on the internal J&J memos presented as evidence. These memos showed, he said, that J&J “tried to cover up [the risks of talc] and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics.”
Same tactics as big tobacco
According to co-lead attorney Jim Onder, the documents showed that J&J had been preparing to be sued over talc health risks for 30 years.
One of the memos was written to J&J by a medical consultant in 1997. The consultant warns that “anybody who denies [the] risks” between genital use of talc and ovarian cancer will eventually come to be seen as similar to tobacco companies who continued to insist that there was no link between smoking and cancer. Both cases, the consultant says, consist of “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
Another internal document complains that use of talc powder is decreasing as more people become aware of the health risks. The document lays out a strategy to counter this decrease by marketing more aggressively to blacks and Latinos, the demographics that use more talcum powder.
Fox was black.
The jury ordered J&J to pay $10 million in damages to Fox’s family, and another $62 in punitive damages. About half of the latter amount will go toward the Missouri Crime Victim Compensation Fund.
J&J is expected to appeal the decision. Even if it loses the appeal, Freeman Engstrom expects the amount it pays to end up substantially lower than $72 million.
“Big jury verdicts do tend to be reined in during the course of the appellate process and I expect that to be the case here,” she said.
There are more than 1,000 similar lawsuits pending against J&J, with more expected to be filed.
Sources for this article include:
Author: David Gutierrez