Johnson & Johnson has been a household name for decades. Many mothers and grandmothers have sworn by their products, touting them as essential tools for soothing babies and providing reliable feminine hygiene products. However, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has recently been in the news, and not in a good way. This past Monday, a St. Louis jury awarded the family of Jackie Fox $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages due to her death from ovarian cancer. The plaintiffs alleged that Ms. Fox’s death was caused by using the company’s Baby Powder and other products that contained talc for feminine hygiene. J&J had marketed the product in the late 80s for feminine hygiene: “just a sprinkle a day keeps odor away,” a 1988 ad stated.
Talc is used in many products: wallboard, powder that keeps elastic balloons from sticking together, and, in this case, baby powder. In more recent years, cornstarch has been substituted for talc as the absorbent agent in baby powder and feminine hygiene products. Red flags concerning the use of certain products in the genital area attracted the attention of the American Cancer Society in 1999. In that year, the organization advised that women use cornstarch-based products in their genital area.
Frankly, Johnson & Johnson was not in the dark either concerning the use of talc in its products. In fact, in 1997, Johnson & Johnson’s medical consultant released a memo stating that “anybody who denies” the risk of using hygienic talc and developing ovarian cancer is “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.” Indeed, it was this document that cinched the decision for jurors, who reached their verdict after deliberating for four hours.
Eva Chalas, chief of Gynecologic Oncology and Director of Clinical Cancer Services at Winthrop-University Hospital, however, stated that directly linking ovarian cancer to talc may be difficult. Many years ago, talc powder contained asbestos, she said. During that time frame, talc powder was also found incorporated in the tissue of women with ovarian cancer. Therefore, the information on talc powder and came out during that time, she stated. Modern talc powder, however, does not contain asbestos. Dr. Chalas also noted that one should choose very carefully which products they use on their genitals.
However, the jury found the evidence of J&J’s memo compelling, and their verdict is a doozy for the company. Not surprisingly, Johnson & Johnson remains defiant. A J&J spokeswoman stated that the company “stands by” the talc used in its global products. The verdict flies in the face of “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,” the spokeswoman, Ms. Carol Goodrich, said in a statement.
J&J is evaluating their legal options and will most likely appeal the verdict. It goes without saying, though, that this verdict (which is the first of Johnson & Johnson’s pending litigation to actually result in monetary compensation, according to Ms. Fox’s family’s lawyer), is not promising for the company. Johnson & Johnson currently faces approximately 1,200 other lawsuits regarding their products.
If you have been injured or a loved one has died as a result of the use of talcum powder or other defective products, call us. We can help determine whether you can pursue an action against the manufacturer for monetary compensation.