J&J to pay $72M for cancer death linked to its talcum powder
A Missouri jury has awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer, which she said was caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.
The civil suit by Jackie Fox of Birmingham was part of a broader claim in the city of St. Louis Circuit Court involving nearly 60 people. Her son took over as plaintiff following his mother’s October 2015 death at 62, more than two years after her diagnosis.
Marvin Salter of Jacksonville, Florida, said his late mother, used the iconic talcum powder all the time.
“It just became second nature, like brushing your teeth,” he said. “It’s a household name. ”
After almost five hours of deliberations, A Fox attorney said the jury verdict Monday. It was the first case among more than 1,000 nationally to result in a jury’s monetary award.
The jury said that Fox was entitled to $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. Attorney James Onder said he “absolutely” expects Johnson & Johnson — the world’s biggest maker of health care products — to appeal the verdict.
The New Jersey-based company has been targeted by health and consumer groups over possibly harmful ingredients in items including its Baby Oil, and Johnson’s No More Tears baby shampoo.
In May 2009, a coalition of groups called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began pushing Johnson & Johnson to eliminate questionable ingredients from its baby and adult personal care products.
Spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said that the New Jersey-based company was considering its next legal move.
In a written statement, she said the verdict “goes against decades of sound science proving the safety of talc as a cosmetic ingredient in multiple products,” citing supportive research by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and National Cancer Institute.
At trial, Fox’s attorneys introduced into evidence a September 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies (the) risks” between “hygenic” 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.”
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral made up mainly of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled. It is used in cosmetics and personal care products to absorb moisture, prevent caking and improve the product’s feel.
It has been suggested that talcum powder might cause cancer in the ovaries if the powder particles (applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins, diaphragms, or condoms) were to travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary.
Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford University law professor not involved in the Missouri case, said it’s unlikely the $72 million award will survive, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a recent series of rulings, has maintained that appellate courts clamp down on punitive damages.
“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 told The Associated Press.
Associated Press reporters Jim Suhr in Kansas City, Missouri, and business writer Linda A. Johnson in Trenton, New Jersey, contributed to this report
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1. “An Update of a Mortality Study of Talc Miners and Millers in Italy.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
2. “Perineal Use of Talcum Powder and Endometrial Cancer Risk.” Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. AACR, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
3. “Court Orders Johnson & Johnson to Pay Family of Cancer Victim.” NBC News. NBC News, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.