It’s not easy to turn down $1.3 million. But that’s exactly what Deane Berg did when Johnson & Johnson offered to settle her talcum powder lawsuit on the condition that it remain confidential.
“I believe that talc can cause ovarian cancer in women. Many apply it to their private parts, and talc particles travel to the ovaries through the cervix and line the uterus and fallopian tubes, resulting in toxic effects on the ovaries,” Berg recently told The New York Post “In my opinion, talcum powder products should be withdrawn from the market and, until then, be clearly labeled indicating the risk.”
Berg was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 49. From the time she was 18, she had been using Johnson’s Baby Powder on a daily basis as part of her feminine hygiene routine. In 2007, shortly after undergoing surgery, Berg learned about the possible connection between talc products and ovarian cancer in literature she had received from Gilda’s Club, a foundation that provides support to victims of the disease.
“There was no ovarian cancer in my family. I didn’t smoke. I wasn’t overweight. The one risk factor that stood out was my use of talcum powder,” Berg told the Post.
Berg ultimately went on to file a talcum powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, and turned down a $1.3 million out –of-court settlement because of the company’s confidentiality stipulation. In 2013, her case went to trial, with a federal jury finding that her use of Baby Powder had contributed to the development of ovarian cancer. However, Berg was not awarded any monetary damages.
“Although I was surprised that the jury awarded me zero damages — South Dakota is a very conservative state, and there had to be a unanimous verdict on whether any compensation should be paid — it was never about the money,” she said.
Berg’s case paved the way for other ovarian cancer victims to take legal action against Johnson & Johnson. Court documents indicate that the company is now facing some 1,200 ovarian cancer lawsuits involving its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. Last month, a St. Louis, Missouri jury awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who blamed her death from ovarian cancer on those talc-based products.
Now 58-years-old and a cancer survivor, Berg was overjoyed for the plaintiffs in that case, and hopes the damage award will be the first of many.
“Some people think $72 million is excessive, but I don’t think so. How can you put a value on a life?”