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Johnson & Johnson to pay $72mn for cancer death linked to talcum powder

Johnson & Johnson to pay $72mn for cancer death linked to talcum powder

ST. LOUIS: Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a Missouri state jury to pay $72 million of damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company's talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for several decades.

In a verdict announced late Monday night, jurors in the circuit court of St. Louis awarded the family of Jacqueline Fox $10 million of actual damages and $62 million of punitive damages, according to the family's lawyers and court records.

The verdict is the first by a US jury to award damages over the claims, the lawyers said.




Johnson & Johnson faces claims that it, in an effort to boost sales, failed for decades to warn consumers that its talc-based products could cause cancer.

About 1,000 cases have been filed in Missouri state court, and another 200 in New Jersey.

Read: ‘9,000 contract ovarian cancer every year’

Fox, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, claimed she used Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene for more than 35 years before being diagnosed three years ago with ovarian cancer. She died in October at age 62.

Marvin Salter of Jacksonville, Florida, said his late mother, who was a foster parent, used the iconic talcum powder as a bathroom staple for decades.

"It just became second nature, like brushing your teeth," he said. "It's a household name."

Jurors found Johnson & Johnson liable for fraud, negligence and conspiracy, the family's lawyers said. Deliberations lasted four hours, following a three-week trial.

Jere Beasley, a lawyer for Fox's family, said 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.” He spoke on a conference call with journalists.

Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, said: “We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathise with the plaintiff's family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”

Trials in several other talc lawsuits have been set for later this year, according to Danielle Mason, who also represented Fox's family at trial.

In October 2013, a federal jury in Sioux Falls, South Dakota found that plaintiff Deane Berg's use of Johnson & Johnson's body powder products was a factor in her developing ovarian cancer. Nevertheless, it awarded no damages, court records show.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc now owns the Shower to Shower brand but was not a defendant in the Fox case.

The New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson previously has been targeted by health and consumer groups over possibly harmful ingredients in items including its iconic Johnson's No More Tears baby shampoo.

In May 2009, a coalition of groups called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began pushing Johnson & Johnson to eliminate questionable ingredients from its baby and adult personal care products.

After three years of petitions, negative publicity and a boycott threat, the company agreed in 2012 to eliminate the ingredients 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable human carcinogens, from all products by 2015.

At trial, Fox's attorneys introduced into evidence a September 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that "anybody who denies (the) risks" between "hygenic" talc use and ovarian cancer will be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: "denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary".

Talc is naturally occurring, mined from the soil and composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It's widely used in cosmetics and personal care products, such as talcum powder, to absorb moisture, prevent caking and improve the product's feel.

Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford University law professor not involved in the Missouri case, said it's unlikely the $72 million award will survive, noting that the US Supreme Court, in a recent series of rulings, has maintained that appellate courts clamp down on punitive damages.

"Big jury verdicts do tend to be reined in during the course of the appellate process, and I expect that to be the case here," she told The Associated Press.

The verdict Monday "doesn't bode well for Johnson & Johnson" as it faces at least 1,200 still-pending lawsuits and possibly thousands more, she said.

"This case clearly was a bellwether, and clearly the jury has seen the evidence and found it compelling," she said, concluding "the jury was distressed by the company's conduct".

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