Johnson and Johnson’s attorney said in opening arguments of the fifth talc trial that is now underway in Missouri that government agencies have not determined that talc is a risk factor for ovarian cancer. However, the plaintiff’s attorney promises to show evidence that J&J and co-defendant Imerys Talc America used corporate power to influence government agencies, successfully preventing talc regulation.
“In internal documents, the mantra of the defendants has consistently been, ‘It’s time to create more confusion,’” said the plaintiff’s attorney Allen Smith, according to the St. Louis Record.
“Johnson & Johnson has never warned the public about this hazard,” Smith told jurors, in spite of the fact studies linking talc to ovarian cancer date back to a 1982 epidemiological study finding statistically significant evidence of talc as a potential cause of ovarian cancer. Smith said that the many studies that have been conducted in the decades since that have found similar results are from reputable sources including Harvard University.
The lawsuits against Johnson and Johnson and Imerys allege that internal documents reveal that the companies were aware of these studies and chose not to warn the public but rather to conceal the cancer risk. Smith points out that the companies chose this course of action even when other industries that used talc in their products, such as the condom industry, were acknowledging the risk in the mid 1990s.
“This is a very important case that has far-reaching consequences and deals with life-and-death matters,” Smith told jurors in his opening statement. “This case is about corporate profit and maintaining a corporate image over human life.”
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most deadly cancer among women and the most deadly cancer of the female reproductive system. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2017 about 22,440 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and more than half of those women, about 14,080, will die from the disease.
According to the St. Louis Record, Smith told jurors that 10 percent of ovarian cancer diagnoses result from the genital use of Johnson and Johnson’s talc-containing products, Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder.
“Smith urged jurors to punish the defendants’ conduct to prevent deadly health risks in the future – by hitting the companies with damages awards that match the suffering that Slemp and other women have sustained,” reported the St. Louis Record.
Sixty-one-year-old plaintiff Lois Slemp was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after more than four decades of using Johnson and Johnson’s talc products for feminine hygiene. Her health has deteriorated to such an extent that her trial, which is the fifth talc trial to be held in Judge Rex Burlison’s St. Louis courtroom, had to be expedited.
In three of the previous four trials, juries found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded huge verdicts amounting to nearly $200 million in damages. The first plaintiff, Jacqueline Fox, died of ovarian cancer just before her case went to trial and the jury chose to award punitive damages against Johnson and Johnson much higher than her lawyers had asked for, awarding $1 million for every year of Ms. Fox’s life.
A new jury is seeing the unique details of Ms. Slemp’s battle with ovarian cancer, which includes the presence of asbestos found in her ovaries. Smith claimed in court that Johnson and Johnson’s products contain not only talc, which is allegedly a carcinogen, but also two other carcinogens — asbestos and heavy metals. In the next few weeks the jury will decide whether Johnson and Johnson’s products are responsible for Ms. Slemp’s ovarian cancer.