A St. Louis jury awarded $72 million to a family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer. The wrongful death lawsuit claimed the death was caused by using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder.
The lawsuit – Jackie Fox of Birmingham, Alabama, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2013 and died in October of 2015. Originally, after her cancer diagnosis, Fox, joined dozens of women suing the company for what they said was a failure to inform consumers about the dangers of talc, which is found in baby powder. Also, the suit claimed the talc in Johnson & Johnson’s iconic Baby Powder and Shower to Shower led Fox to develop cancer after several decades of use for feminine hygiene. At the trial, Dr. Daniel Cramer, Director of the OB/GYN Epidemiology Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and an expert who testified for the plaintiff, said he conducted his own study that shows an increased risk of ovarian cancer with talcum powder use. “I think the link is a persuasive one,” Cramer told CBS Boston. “There have been more than 20 epidemiologic studies and a majority of these have found an elevated risk, and when you combine those risks into a single estimate, it is highly significant.” Fox’s attorneys also introduced into evidence a September 1997 internal letter from a medical consultant employed by Johnson & Johnson that suggested that “anybody who denies [the] risks” between “hygienic” talc use and ovarian cancer would be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer. According to Jere Beasley, the lawyer for the family, “They made a conscious decisions not to warn the customers they were using a very dangerous product,” said. The award broke down to $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. According to CBS News, Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that it sympathizes with Fox’s family, but it maintains that the verdict “goes against decades of sound science proving the safety of talc as a cosmetic ingredient in multiple products.”
Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, said the company stands by the talc used in all “global products” and they are “evaluating” their legal options.
“The recent U.S. verdict goes against decades of sound science proving the safety of talc as a cosmetic ingredient in multiple products, and while we sympathize with the family of the plaintiff, we strongly disagree with the outcome,” Goodrich said in a statement.
Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford University law professor, told AP the decision “doesn’t bode well” for the company, which is facing 1,200 still-pending lawsuits.
USA Today interviewed Eva Chalas, chief of Gynecologic Oncology and Director of Clinical Cancer Services at Winthrop-University Hospital. She said it is hard to directly link ovarian cancer to talc. “The information on talc powder came out many years ago when they saw talc incorporated in tissue of women with ovarian cancer,” Chalas said. She said concerns over talc led many doctors to advise mothers to stop using talcum powder on their babies, and to discontinue use for feminine hygiene. She said it’s important to note that in the past talcum powder contained talc that contained asbestos, but modern powder does not. “Some cancer may have been from years ago potential contamination with asbestos when they made the talcum powder,” Chalas said. Chalas said when it comes to using products on the genitals it’s better to be safe than sorry. “People should be careful about what they apply to their genitals, but in terms of ovarian cancer, the majority of women who develop ovarian do so from other risk factors including – age, genetic predisposition, reproductive issues and whether they were on birth control,” Chalas said.
So what do I take from this? People should be careful about what they apply to their genitals.