Breaking a string of lopsided courtroom defeats, Johnson & Johnson scored a legal victory Friday when a St. Louis jury rejected the claim of an ovarian cancer victim that her use of talc powders for feminine hygiene caused the disease.
The defense verdict in St. Louis Circuit Court followed three plaintiffs’ victories last year with total damage awards of $197 million against J&J and its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, Inc., which was found liable in one of the three cases.
The plaintiff in the latest case, Nora Daniels of Columbia, Tenn., was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013 at age 52. The disease is currently in remission. Along with more than 2,000 women with similar claims against J&J and Imerys, she had blamed her cancer on regular use of J&J’s Shower to Shower and Johnson’s Baby Powder for genital hygiene.
“We deeply sympathize with the women and families impacted by ovarian cancer,” said J&J spokeswoman Carol Goodrich following the verdict. “The jury’s decision is consistent with the science, research, clinical evidence and decades of studies by medical experts around the world that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc.’’
“We commend the jury for following the science that establishes the safety of talc,” said Imerys spokeswoman Gwen Myers in a prepared statement. “Imerys sympathizes with women suffering from ovarian cancer and hopes that the scientific community’s efforts will continue to be directed toward finding the true causes of this terrible disease.”
Ted Meadows, a lawyer for Daniels, said in a written statement that while disappointed with the outcome, “We continue to maintain that the association between genital talc usage and ovarian cancer remains an issue of public health and demands that consumers be warned of the specific risks…We are committed to carrying the fight forward with the legal claims of thousands of innocent victims whose lives have been shattered by ovarian cancer.’’
More than 300 talc cases are pending in state and federal courts in J&J’s home state of New Jersey. About 470 more are consolidated in Los Angeles County Superior Court. But St. Louis, with more than 1,000 pending claims, has been the epicenter of the litigation. Business groups had disparaged it –until Friday, at least– as a place where big companies could not get a fair trial. The American Tort Reform Association, a business lobby that seeks to limit lawsuits and damage awards, recently named the St. Louis court the country’s “#1 ranked Judicial Hellhole” for producing “monstrous verdicts’’ based on ‘’junk science.”
To win damages, a plaintiff must not only prove that talc can cause ovarian cancer, but that it directly contributed to her contracting the disease.
Talc, the softest of minerals, has a multitude of industrial and consumer uses. It is an ingredient in paints, paper, rubber, roofing and ceramic materials—and has even been used a food additive, a filler in capsules, pills and cosmetics. Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson and Imerys have stressed talc’s wide range of uses as evidence that it is utterly benign.
But, as FairWarning has reported, suspicions about talc and ovarian cancer go back decades. In 1982, the journal Cancer published the first study showing a statistical link between genital talc use and the disease. Since then, at least 20 more epidemiological studies have found increased rates of ovarian cancer for women who reported using talc for feminine hygiene. Other studies have found no association.
This year, about 22,440 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 14,080 will die of the disease.
The disease strikes about one woman in 70. Studies showing a higher rate of ovarian cancer with genital talc use have typically put the increased risk at about 30 percent. That would raise the odds of getting the disease to roughly one in 50.
The next trial in St. Louis is scheduled next month, and the first trial in Los Angeles is set for July. In New Jersey, the litigation is on hold following a state court judge’s ruling that scientific evidence of a causal link between talc and ovarian cancer is too weak to allow it to be presented to a jury. The ruling last September has been appealed by plaintiffs.
Trial coverage was streamed courtesy of the Courtroom View Network, http://cvn.com/
May 4, 2017 update: A St. Louis jury today ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay more than $110 million in damages to an ovarian cancer victim who blamed her illness on longtime use of the company’s talc powders for feminine hygiene. It was the company’s worst defeat yet in the mushrooming talc-ovarian cancer litigation, which now includes more than 3,000 claims against the health care products giant in state and federal courts. The jury ordered Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Cos. Inc. to pay more than $5 million in compensatory damages and $105 million in punitive damages to Lois Slemp, 62, of Virginia. The jury also returned a liability finding against J&J’s talc supplier, Imery Talc America, Inc., but assessed damages of just $104,000. J&J said it will appeal. Altogether, the company has lost four of five trials in St. Louis, the epicenter of the litigation, with damages totaling about $305 million. The lone defense verdict came in March, when jurors found J&J and Imerys were not responsible for the ovarian cancer of a Tennessee woman.