Second Missouri jury hits J&J with $55M verdict after linking talc to ovarian cancer

Another Missouri jury awarded $55 million to a woman who sued the company over allegations that she developed ovarian cancer after decades of using talc body powder for feminine hygiene. The verdict includes $5 million in actual damages and $50 million in punitive damages, according to a press release issued by Beasley Allen, the law firm representing the woman’s family.

The complaint, which was filed on behalf of over 60 plaintiffs, including the 62-year-old woman, alleged that each woman had developed ovarian cancer as a direct result of using Johnson’s® Baby Powder and its Shower to Shower® body powder—both of which contained talc—for more than 40 years. Specifically, the women all alleged that they had used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products to dust their perineum for feminine hygiene purposes. It was asserted in the case that this was an intended and foreseeable use of these products based on the manufacturer’s advertising, marketing, and labeling of them. It was alleged that her development of ovarian cancer was directly and proximately caused by the unreasonably dangerous and defective talc products and the manufacturer’s “wrongful and negligent conduct in the research, development, testing, manufacture, production, promotion, distribution, marketing, and sale of talcum powder.” According to the timeline outlined in the complaint, Johnson & Johnson knew in 1971 about a study’s suggestion that there was a possible link between ovarian cancer and talc.

It was further alleged that at all pertinent times, cornstarch presented a feasible alternative to the use of talcum powder. Cornstarch is an organic carbohydrate that is quickly broken down by the body with no known health effects. Cornstarch powders have been sold and marketed for the same uses with nearly the same effectiveness.

“This second jury verdict affirms that Johnson & Johnson knew that its talcum powder products posed a risk to women’s health, but they did nothing to warn the public,” said Beasley Allen lawyer Ted Meadows.

Jury’s finding

The jury found Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. equally liable on the consumer’s claims for product liability failure to warn and negligence, and conspiracy. However, the jury found in favor of these two companies on the woman’s conspiracy claims. The jury also found in favor of Imerys Talc America, Inc., which has been in the business of mining and distributing talcum powder for use in talcum powder-based products, including the products at issue, on the negligence claim (the strict liability failure to warn claim had been withdrawn).

After agreeing that the products contributed to the woman’s development of ovarian cancer, the jury rendered a $55 million verdict for the woman’s family. The verdict included $5 million in actual damages and $50 million in punitive damages ($35 million against Johnson & Johnson; and $15 million against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc.).

Prior verdict

In February, another City of St. Louis Circuit Court jury awarded a woman’s family $72 million after agreeing the products contributed to the development of her ovarian cancer. That verdict included $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages (see J&J gets hit with $72M verdict over link between Talc powder and cancer, Health Law Daily, February 26, 2016).

J&J gets hit with $72M verdict over link between Talc powder and cancer

Litigation alleging that Johnson & Johnson Talc-based powder caused a woman to develop ovarian cancer led to a $72 million verdict against the manufacturer on February 22, 2016. The Missouri litigation was one of almost 1,200 similar pending cases across the country. To date, only two Talc powder cases have gone to trial. In both cases, women alleged that their ovarian cancer was caused by the use of J&J’s talc-powder products for feminine hygiene over the course of decades.

Verdict

When the first case was litigated in 2013, a federal Jury in South Dakota found that J&J was negligent, but the jury did not award damages to the injured woman, who was in remission at the time of the trial. In the latest litigation, the jury found in favor of the survivors of the Talc powder user, finding against J&J on negligence, failure to warn, and conspiracy claims. The jury assessed $10 million in compensatory damages for the personal injuries of the deceased woman and $62 million in punitive damages against J&J. One of the jurors in the Missouri litigation indicated that he was persuaded by evidence that J&J was aware of concerns about a cancer risk and instead of investigating the problem, seemed to begin preparing for potential litigation.

Other litigation

The next ovarian cancer and Talc-based powder case is set for trial in April 2016. While the most recent verdict suggests that other plaintiffs may find success in similar litigation, the conclusion is not a certainty. To succeed at trial, plaintiffs in such litigation need to demonstrate a causal link between Talc and ovarian cancer as well as proof that the Talc, and not something else, was responsible for the individual’s cancer. While the Talc litigation is significant in scope, it is minor when compared to other legal threats faced by J&J. For example, J&J’s Ethicon unit is facing 44,000 cases from women allegedly harmed by pelvic mesh (see $3.2M verdict stands in transvaginal mesh device injury suit, Health Law Daily, August 20, 2015).The company’s DePuy subsidiary has another 8,000 cases related to its metal-on-metal hip system (see DePuy’s preemption argument falls apart in hip implant litigation, Health Law Daily, July 22, 2014).