Products Liability Law Daily Second Missouri jury hits J&J with $55M verdict after linking talc to ovarian cancer
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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Second Missouri jury hits J&J with $55M verdict after linking talc to ovarian cancer

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

A little more than two months after a Missouri state jury hit Johnson & Johnson with a $72 million verdict after finding that the company’s talc-containing products contributed to a woman’s death from ovarian cancer, another Missouri jury awarded $55 million to a woman who also sued the company over allegations that she developed ovarian cancer after decades of using talc body powder for feminine hygiene. The verdict includes $5 million in actual damages and $50 million in punitive damages, according to a press release issued by Beasley Allen, the law firm representing the woman’s family.

The complaint in this case, which was filed on behalf of over 60 plaintiffs, including the 62-year-old woman in this case, alleged that each woman had developed ovarian cancer as a direct result of using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and its Shower to Shower body powder—both of which contained talc—for more than 40 years. Specifically, the women all alleged that they had used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products to dust their perineum for feminine hygiene purposes. It was asserted in the case that this was an intended and foreseeable use of these products based on the manufacturer’s advertising, marketing, and labeling of them. It was alleged that her development of ovarian cancer was directly and proximately caused by the unreasonably dangerous and defective talc products and the manufacturer’s “wrongful and negligent conduct in the research, development, testing, manufacture, production, promotion, distribution, marketing, and sale of talcum powder.” According to the timeline outlined in the complaint, Johnson & Johnson knew in 1971 about a study’s suggestion that there was a possible link between ovarian cancer and talc.

It was further alleged that at all pertinent times, cornstarch presented a feasible alternative to the use of talcum powder. Cornstarch is an organic carbohydrate that is quickly broken down by the body with no known health effects. Cornstarch powders have been sold and marketed for the same uses with nearly the same effectiveness.

“This second jury verdict affirms that Johnson & Johnson knew that its talcum powder products posed a risk to women’s health, but they did nothing to warn the public,” said Beasley Allen lawyer Ted Meadows, who has been on the forefront of this litigation. “There are safer alternatives made with cornstarch, which Johnson & Johnson also sells. There really was no reason for them to leave this product on the market. At the very least, they could have added a warning label to alert women to the risk of ovarian cancer. This verdict sends a message that the public is tired of corporations placing their profits over our health and trust.”

According to the law firm’s release, approximately 20,000 women are diagnosed each year with ovarian cancer. While about one in 70 women develop the disease, studies have shown that women who use talc-containing products on their genitals have a one in 50 chance of developing the cancer. An expert at trial testified that at least 45,000 women have died due to ovarian cancer that could be attributed to talcum powder use on their genitals.

Jury’s finding. The jury found Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. equally liable on the consumer’s claims for product liability failure to warn and negligence, and conspiracy. However, the jury found in favor of these two companies on the woman’s conspiracy claims. The jury also found in favor of Imerys Talc America, Inc., which has been in the business of mining and distributing talcum powder for use in talcum powder-based products, including the products at issue, on the negligence claim (the strict liability failure to warn claim had been withdrawn).. After agreeing that the products contributed to the woman’s development of ovarian cancer, the jury rendered a $55 million verdict for the woman’s family. The verdict included $5 million in actual damages and $50 million in punitive damages ($35 million against Johnson & Johnson; and $15 million against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc.).

Prior verdict. In February, another City of St. Louis Circuit Court jury awarded the family of Plaintiff Jacqueline Fox $72 million after agreeing the products contributed to the development of her ovarian cancer. That verdict included $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages [see Products Liability Law Daily’s February 26, 2016 analysis].

Attorneys: Ted G. Meadows (Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, PC), R. Allen Smith, Jr.(The Smith Law Firm), and Stephanie Rados (Onder, Shelton, O’Leary & Peterson, LLC) for Gloria Ristesund. Christy D. Jones (Butler Snow LLP) and Iain Kennedy (Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP) for Johnson & Johnson Co. and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. Mary Anne Mellow (Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard, PC) and Michael R. Klatt (Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP) for Imerys Talc America, Inc.

Companies: Johnson & Johnson Co.; Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc.; Imerys Talc America, Inc.

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