A jury in St. Louis jury returned a $72 million dollar verdict on February 22, 2016 in the case of a woman who died of ovarian cancer. The jury found the cancer was caused by her use of talc-based products made by Johnson & Johnson. The jury awarded $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages against J&J.
The woman, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, died in 2015, two years after her cancer diagnosis. After the diagnosis, she joined dozens of women suing J&J for what they said was a failure to inform consumers about the dangers of talc. The woman’s son took over the claim after his mother’s death, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
Plaintiffs in these talc-related cases allege that J&J and Imerys, the mining company that supplied raw talc to J&J, collaborated in misrepresenting and hiding information about the dangers of talcum powder use in the genital area. They created the “Talc Interested Party Task Force” (TIPTF) to defend talc use and prevent regulation via biased self-funded and self-disseminated research reports; they released bogus information about the safety of talc; and they used political and economic persuasion on regulatory bodies. Use of talc in cosmetics and personal care products remains unregulated in the United States.
In the 1970s, researchers began to see a link between talc and ovarian cancer. Dr. Daniel Cramer of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital observed in 1982 that women who reported using talc in the genital area had a 92 percent increase in the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Several studies have confirmed that talc applied the genital area may travel through the vagina and into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, causing inflammation that may lead to the development of cancer. In June 2013, a study in the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research found that women who used talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product may face a 20 to 30 percent greater risk of ovarian cancer compared to those who do not use talc. In a new study in Epidemiology, Cramer said the cancer risk increased the longer talc was used.
In the first federal lawsuit brought over allegations that Johnson & Johnson baby powder led to ovarian cancer, Cramer indicated that, of the more than 22,000 new ovarian cancer cases diagnosed in 2013, about 10,000 would be associated use of talcum powder in the genital area.
At an earlier trial, a lawyer representing Johnson & Johnson admitted that J&J executives were aware of the association between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, but did not consider the risk sufficiently significant to warrant a product warning.
Stanford law professor Nora Freeman told the AP that this week’s verdict “doesn’t bode well” for Johnson & Johnson, which is facing 1,200 still-pending lawsuits. The company is expected to appeal the verdict.