US$72M award over talc use
• Jacqueline Fox died last fall, but her voice recently came alive in a St. Louis courtroom.
In an audio deposition, the Birmingham, Ala., native who died at 62 recounted 35 years of using Johnson & Johnson products containing talcum powder, from its trademark baby powder to its shower-to-shower body powder.
More than three years ago, she was diagnosed with an ovarian cancer that proved fatal. Fox then joined more than 1,200 women from across the U. S. suing Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn consumers of the dangers associated with talc, the mineral in baby powder.
This week, her case became the first in which monetary compensation was awarded. A Missouri jury ordered the company to pay Fox’s family US$ 72 million in actual and punitive damages.
The other defendant, talc producer Imerys Talc America, has not been faulted.
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial,” Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday. “We sympathize with the plaintiff ’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
The award — US$ 10 million in compensatory damages, US$62 million in punitive damages — will likely be reduced in appellate courts, Stanford law professor Nora Freeman Engstrom said.
One juror, Jerome Kendrick, said he was swayed by internal company memos presented at trial.
“They tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics,” he said, adding, “They could have at least put a warning label on the box, but they didn’t.”
One memo from a company medical consultant likened ignoring the risks associated with “hygienic” talc use and ovarian cancer to denying the link between smoking cigarettes and cancer — in other words, “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
The New Jersey- based company faces many more lawsuits related to talcum products it has made household names.
A pathologist found Fox’s ovaries were inflamed from talc, which then turned into cancer.
While studies have associated regular talc use with ovarian cancer for decades, the American Cancer Society notes there is no definitive research on whether asbestos-free talc — the kind widely used in consumer products — causes ovarian cancer.
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