The family of an Alabama woman has been awarded $72 million, after a St. Louis jury found that Johnson & Johnson’s talc products caused her ovarian cancer. The verdict marks the first time a jury has ordered the company to pay financial damages in a talcum powder lawsuit.
The case, which was part of a larger claim involving more than 60 people, was decided Monday in St. Louis Circuit Court following three weeks of testimony. The orginal plaintiff, Jackie Fox, died in October 2015, just three years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The lawsuit, which was taken over by her son upon her death, asserted that Fox’s cancer resulted from decades of regular, repeated use of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene purposes.
“It just became second nature, like brushing your teeth,” her son told the Associated Press after the verdict was read in court “It’s a household name.”
Fox’s family had alleged that Johnson & Johnson was aware of a potential link between talc and ovarian cancer as early as the 1980s. The evidence they presented included a September 1997 internal company memo suggesting that “anybody who denies (the) risks” between “hygienic” talc use and ovarian cancer will be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
It took the jury just five hours to find that Johnson & Johnson had failed to warn consumers that talc could cause ovarian cancer. The judgment included $10 million in actual damages, as well as $62 million in punitive damages. Jurors found Johnson & Johnson liable for fraud, negligence and conspiracy.
Court documents indicate that Johnson & Johnson has been named in more than 1,200 talcum powder lawsuits that put forth similar allegations regarding Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. More than 100 have been centralized in a multicounty litigation that is now underway in New Jersey’s Atlantic County Superior Court.
In 2013, a jury in South Dakota found that another woman’s long-term use of Shower to Shower had contributed to the development of ovarian cancer. However, she was not awarded any damages because the jury concluded that the product was not defective without a warning label.
Despite this latest legal setback, Johnson & Johnson continue to stand by its talc products,
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters. “We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
Johnson & Johnson is expected to appeal the verdict in this most recent case.