On Monday a St. Louis jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million to the family of deceased plaintiff Jacqueline Fox, who alleged the company’s talc-containing products contributed to the development of her ovarian cancer. Fox died at age 62 just before the trial began.
She had been using Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder for feminine hygiene for more than 35 years. Shower to Shower in particular was marketed by Johnson and Johnson for feminine hygiene with the memorable slogan “Just a sprinkle a day helps keep odor away.”
When the company introduced the slogan in the ’80s, there was already decade-old published research linking talc to an increased risk for ovarian cancer including one study where a majority of ovarian tumors had particles of talc embedded in them.
Bloomberg reports that “J&J is facing about 1,200 suits claiming studies have linked its Johnson’s Baby Powder and its Shower-to-Shower product to ovarian cancer. Women contend the company knew of the risk and failed to warn customers.”
The St. Louis jury found Johnson and Johnson guilty of negligence, conspiracy and fraud. Ted G. Meadows, a Principal with Beasley Allen and plaintiff’s attorney, said, “Jacqueline Fox was an incredible lady whose life was cut far too short by the callous decisions by the bosses at Johnson and Johnson. Inside J&J folks have known for decades, literally decades, that the talc contained in its products could cause cancer. Instead of warning customers, J&J executives made the deliberate decision to hide the risk and keep on selling. The internal documents tell a horrifying and infuriating story of corporate greed and indifference to human life. We are honored to represent the family of Ms. Fox and to bring to light the misdeeds of this company.”
According to Bloomberg the jury agreed with this assessment: “The jury foreman, Krista Smith, called the company’s internal documents ‘decisive’ for jurors, who reached the verdict after four hours of deliberations. ‘It was really clear they were hiding something,’ said Smith, 39, of St Louis. ‘All they had to do was put a warning label on.’”
The company also could have switched to the safer alternative of corn starch, which in 1999 the American Cancer Society advised women use for feminine hygiene.
This is the first time a jury has ordered Johnson and Johnson to pay damages over these claims, but it is not the first time that the company has been found guilty. J&J was found liable in a 2013 product liability lawsuit in South Dakota where a jury found in favor of plaintiff Deane Berg that Johnson and Johnson did not adequately warn consumers of the link between talc and ovarian cancer. Even after this litigation the company refused to add warning labels to its products.
Bloomberg reports that “Baby powder is estimated to be an $18.8 million market in the U.S., according to the Statistic Brain Research Group. About 19 percent of U.S. households use J&J’s brand, according to another research group, Statista.”
Yesterday’s verdict includes $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages to the family of Jacqueline Fox.