February 24, 2016
Johnson & Johnson To Pay $72M For Talc Powder Ovarian Cancer Death


Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $72 million for an ovarian cancer death caused by talcum powder. The lawsuit against health products company was filed by the family of Jacqueline Fox, an Alabama woman who died of ovarian cancer caused by exposure to Johnson & Johnson's signature Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products for decades. The suit alleges that the company not only knew the risks posed by their products, but it actively covered up the studies that suggested a link between ovarian cancer and their baby powder.

The details of the verdict were released late Monday night, and the jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for $62 million in punitive damages alone, reports Fox News. The Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products at fault in the suit have been on the shelves for decades, promoted by Johnson & Johnson as essential for baby and feminine care, which is precisely how Jacqueline Fox was exposed to the carcinogenic compounds within the products. She developed ovarian cancer three years ago and died in October 2015 at the age of 62.

It's not the first time Johnson & Johnson has been sued for cancer-causing chemicals in their products. Another plaintiff from South Dakota won a case against the heath care products giant, but the federal jury did not award any damages in her case.

"We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff's family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence," claims Carol Goodrich, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson.

The scientific research touted by Johnson & Johnson runs contrary to studies that were available as far back as 1980, reports Salon. Since the early 1980s, there have been numerous studies that found women who regularly use talcum powder for feminine hygiene have higher rates of ovarian cancer. Despite the danger, the studies remained relatively unknown – they didn't prove causation, just correlation – and other than their publication in a few medical journals, the public at large remained largely unaware of the risk.

Despite the risk being known within the healthcare community – and presumably within Johnson & Johnson's own laboratories, which is why the Jacqueline Fox suit includes fraud as one of the charges – Johnson & Johnson continued to promote the product as safe and healthy for women and children to use.

Deane Berg, the plaintiff who sued Johnson & Johnson in 2013, was the first of many to file similar lawsuits and bring the public health problem into the national discourse. Her lawsuit was the first of its kind against Johnson & Johnson, alleging that her ovarian cancer was directly caused by her prolonged use of Johnson & Johnson products.

Johnson & Johnson itself maintains that it is not at fault, and that the link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder are tenuous at best. Studies have shown, however, that the link is very real. Women who regularly use talcum powder for feminine hygiene have an estimated 35 percent increase in ovarian cancer risk.

The problem seems to stem not from talc itself but from other mineral components that are often naturally occurring within talc powder, including asbestos and other chemical impurities. It's these other compounds that are potentially at fault and possibly responsible for causing ovarian cancer in talc powder users.

The legal victories against Johnson & Johnson don't bode particularly well for the company, who now faces over 130 similar lawsuits from women who have developed ovarian cancer over the years after using the Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. According to the jury foreman in Jacqueline Fox's case, Johnson & Johnson was clearly "hiding something."

[Photo Illustration by Chris Hondros/Getty Images]