$72 Million Verdict in Talcum-Powder Related Ovarian Cancer Death

A jury in St. Louis has awarded $72 million to the family of an Alabama woman who died from ovarian cancer she said was caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and other products containing talcum.

This civil suit was part of a broader claim in St. Louis Circuit Court involving nearly 60 people, the Associated Press (AP) reports. The woman’s son took over her claim following his mother’s death in October 2015, about two years after her cancer diagnosis.

Marvin Salter of Jacksonville, Florida, said his mother had used J&J talcum powder for decades. “It just became second nature, like brushing your teeth,” he said, according to the AP.

The verdict was announced on Monday, February 22, 2016, after nearly five hours of deliberations. The jury said that the family was entitled to $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. Johnson & Johnson is expected to appeal the verdict. The New Jersey-based company previously has been targeted by health and consumer groups over possibly harmful ingredients in products including its iconic Johnson’s No More Tears baby shampoo.

Plaintiffs in talc-related cases allege that J&J misrepresented and hid information about the dangers of talcum powder use in the genital area. J&J was one of the organizers of the “Talc Interested Party Task Force” (TIPTF), formed to defend talc use and prevent regulation via self-funded and self-disseminated research reports. Plaintiffs say the group released bogus information about the safety of talc and used political and economic persuasion on regulatory bodies.

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral that is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. Talc absorbs moisture, prevents caking and improves the product’s feel. Several studies have confirmed that talc applied the genital area may travel through the vagina and into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, causing inflammation that may lead to the development of cancer. Use of talc in cosmetics and personal care products remains unregulated in the United States.

In May 2009, the AP reports, 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.

Among the evidence introduced at the trial, was a September 1997 internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies (the) risks” between “hygienic” 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,” according to the AP.

Stanford University law professor Nora Freeman Engstrom (who was not involved in the Missouri case) told the AP it is likely that the $72 million award will be reduced during the appellate process. But she said the verdict “doesn’t bode well for Johnson & Johnson.” “This case clearly was a bellwether, and clearly the jury has seen the evidence and found it compelling.”

Johnson & Johnson faces at least 1,200 pending talcum powder lawsuits and possibly thousands more, the professor said.

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