Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a St. Louis jury to pay over $110 million to a woman from Virginia claiming the company’s talc-based products targeted at woman caused her to develop ovarian cancer.
Thousands of women have filed lawsuits against the pharmaceutical giant over allegations that it ignored studies linking talcum powder with ovarian cancer and did not adequately warn consumers about those risks.
The verdict follows a string of losses in cases related to Johnson & Johnson’s products, but the $110 million award has been the highest so far. Last year, the company lost three trials with a total of $197 million in verdicts against Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier.
The company won its first trial in March and a judge in New Jersey state court threw out cases last year over a lack of scientific evidence to support the claims.
Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, told Reuters that she understood how women have been affected by ovarian cancer but that the company plans to appeal the verdict.
“We are preparing for additional trials this year and we continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” Goodrich said in a statement.
Plaintiff Blamed J&J Powder for Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
Plaintiff Lois Slemp said she used two Johnson & Johnson products, Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Powder, for more than four decades until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012.
The cancer eventually returned and has since spread to her liver, causing the 62-year-old retired nurse’s assistant to miss the trial.
“Once again we’ve shown that these companies ignored the scientific evidence and continue to deny their responsibilities to the women of America,” said Ted Meadows, one of Slemp’s attorneys, according to Bloomberg. “They chose to put profits over people, spending millions in efforts to manipulate scientific and regulatory scrutiny.”
Some studies have found a possible link between using talc-based products around the pelvic area with ovarian cancer, but according to the American Cancer Society, the findings have been mixed.
“Many case-control studies have found a small increase in risk,” the nonprofit organization says on its website. “But these types of studies can be biased because they often rely on a person’s memory of talc use many years earlier. Two prospective cohort studies, which would not have the same type of potential bias, have not found an increased risk.”
In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed cosmetic talcum powder products as possibly carcinogenic to humans but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to add the warning to its literature.
On its website, the FDA says that scientific literature published as far back as the 1960s suggests an association but that “these studies have not conclusively demonstrated such a link, or if such a link existed, what risk factors might be involved.”
Slemp also made the claim that the talc used by Johnson & Johnson contained asbestos. Although the allegations have become less common, asbestos has long been a concern with talcum powder. According to the FDA, both are found in close proximity in the earth and separation requires purification at talc mining sites.
Plaintiff Awarded Punitive Damages Against J&J
The plaintiff was awarded $5.4 million in compensatory damages with the jury deciding that 99 percent of the fault lies with Johnson & Johnson while the other 1 percent fell to the company’s talc supplier Imerys Talc.
But the bulk of the award came from punitive damages. About $105 million was awarded against Johnson & Johnson and $50,000 was awarded against Imerys Talc.
The numbers were derived from a formula that included the years since the IARC listed talc as a possible carcinogen to humans, according to a juror who spoke with Bloomberg.
“I felt that J&J was withholding information about its products that was vital to women –vital to women like me,” juror Nancy Kinney told Bloomberg.
Another juror pointed to the science linking talc with ovarian cancer as a reason for the verdict.
“The J&J documents acknowledge that,” Lindsay Polley said. “If we could, we would make them put on a warning label.”
Jeremy King, a 32-year-old juror, also said that the Johnson & Johnson documents from the case were “mindblowing.”
Talc Verdict Continues Losses for J&J
Although this was the biggest award in talc cases, Johnson & Johnson has lost the majority of cases so far related to the issue.
The first trial ended in February 2017 with $72 million awarded to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer. The jury in a May 2016 trial awarded $55 million to a woman who claimed the talc products gave her cancer and another jury hit the companies with a $70 million verdict in October 2017.
It wasn’t until March did Johnson & Johnson secure its first victory from a trial when a Missouri jury sided with the company over Tennessee resident Nora Daniels, who said that she used Baby Powder for nearly 40 years and developed ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson faces another trial related to its talc products this month with a trial following that one in July.