A Missouri state jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer as a result of her use of talc-based baby powder and Shower to Shower over several decades.
The verdict, announced in late February 2016 and originally reported on Reuters.com, awarded Jacqueline Fox’s family $10 million in actual damages and an additional $62 million in punitive damages. This verdict is the first by a United States jury to award monetary damages to compensate victims over claims that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn consumers that their talc-based baby powder products could potentially cause cancer.
The case is significant in light of the claims that Johnson & Johnson knew about the potential harm for decades and took no action to prevent consumer harm. It’s also been suggested that in their efforts to boost sales, Johnson & Johnson may have encouraged the consumers most at risk for ovarian cancer to use their product in a way that actually increased their risk.
Jacqueline Fox, a resident of Birmingham, Alabama, claimed she regularly used baby powder and Shower to Shower, both manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, for feminine hygiene for over 35 years before her diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2013. Fox later died at the age of 62.
Jurors in the case deliberated for just four hours after a 3-week trial, coming back with a finding that placed liability squarely on the shoulders of Johnson & Johnson for fraud, negligence and conspiracy.
The original Reuters.com article featured a quote from Jere Beasely, an attorney for the Fox family, who said that Johnson & Johnson “knew as far back as the 1980s of the risk,” and yet resorted to “lying to the public, lying to the regulatory agencies.”
In the same article, Carol Goodrich, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson said “We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
The most recent case that resulted in a verdict involved a federal jury in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in October of 2013. While the jury found in favor of plaintiff Deane Berg, confirming her use of Johnson & Johnson’s body powder products was a factor in the development of her ovarian cancer, they failed to award damages.
There are currently at least 1200 active cases involving the link between talc-based body powder and ovarian cancer with 1000 being brought to Missouri state court and 200 more in the state of New Jersey.