On Monday, a U.S. jury in a Missouri court ordered the Johnson & Johnson company to pay $55 million to a 62-year-old South Dakota woman who stated that she got ovarian cancer from using J&J's talcum powder. It is the second time this year that the company has lost a trial about their talc powder causing cancer.
Gloria Ristesund was awarded a total of $5 million for compensation and another $50 million in punitive damages by state court jurors in St. Louis. Ristesund was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 after using Johnson & Johnson's talcum based feminine hygiene products for practically 40 years of her life. After having to undergo a hysterectomy and other related surgeries because of the ovarian cancer the southern woman is now, fortunately, in remission.
Christy Jones, a Johnson & Johnson attorney, tried unsuccessfully to argue that Ristesund had several risk factors for ovarian cancer already, such as a family history and endometriosis and also stated that "Nobody knows what causes ovarian cancer." However, Bloomberg reported that after Gloria Ristesund's hysterectomy, doctors found talc in her ovarian tissue. She incurred over $174,000 in medical bills and a great deal of pain and suffering.Johnson & Johnson is facing approximately 1,200 lawsuits from consumers which all accuse the company of inadequate warnings that the talc-based products carried such high cancer risks. Given that this is their second straight loss and with payouts for both coming out to over $50 million, the odds do not seem to be in the company's favor. It only took a three-week trial in the Missouri state court, and the jurors deliberated for no more than a day before the verdict was returned in the plaintiff's favor.
The first case Johnson & Johnson lost was back in February, and it was in the same courthouse as well. In that case, the verdict ordered the company to pay $72 million to the family of an Alabama woman who had actually died of ovarian cancer. Jacqueline Fox's family presented the case that her exposure came from decades of using Johnson & Johnson's signature Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products.
According to Reuters, the 1,200 lawsuits against J&J will be tried in both state and federal courts, and the women going up against them contend that the company always knew the cancer risks of their Shower-to-Shower product and Johnson's Baby Powder products. The lawsuits argue that the company ignored studies which linked ovarian cancer to them and hence failed to warn the women who were their customers.
On Friday, Ristesund's lawyer Allen Smith, said that four decades the woman used the talc products and was unaware of the health concerns, but Johnson & Johnson could claim no such ignorance. According to him, the company has documents which show that they knew of the health risks since the mid-1970s, nonetheless, a 1992 document gave approval to target women, who used the talcum powder products more often, in order to boost sales.
"Science has been simple and consistent over the last 40 years: There's an increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital use of talc."Carol Goodrich, spokeswoman for J&J, argued that the court's decision is completely contradictory to over 30 years of research that the company has conducted which continues to support their claim that cosmetic talc is safe. Goodrich stated firmly that the company will continue to maintain that their products are quite safe and plan to appeal the decision which the jury has made. While this is the second trial in which the company has been ordered to pay millions in damages, it is the third trial Johnson & Johnson has lost in relation to their products being linked to cancer. In 2013, a federal trial in a South Dakota court found the company negligent as well, but the jury did not award any damages at that time.
Following the trial win by Jacqueline Fox's family, thousands of women or their family members contacted the lawyer which represented them and attorney Jere Beasley revealed in an interview that his firm, one of the several undertaking the cases, are currently reviewing over 5,000 complaints.
[Photo Courtesy of Matt Rourke/AP Images]