This past week, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) lost the third trial involving its talcum powder product. A jury in St. Louis ordered the company to pay out $65 million in punitive damages to a California woman who has been diagnosed with Stage Four ovarian cancer, caused by her use of J&J’s Baby Powder.
In addition, the plaintiff was awarded $575,000 in economic damages and $2 million in non-economic damages. The talc producer that supplied J&J, Imerys Talc America, Inc., was assessed $2.5 million in punitive damages. The verdict came after only three hours of jury deliberation.
The plaintiff, 62-year-old Deborah Giannicchini, used Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, which contains talc for hygiene purposes throughout most of her adult life. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013. That cancer eventually spread to other organs, including her uterus, spleen and colon, all of which had to be removed.
She is not expected to live more than two years – but it’s not about the money. It’s about holding a large corporation accountable for its behavior. Giannicchini’s attorney, James Onder, told CBS News, “The families…[are] in it to save the lives of others…and to force Johnson & Johnson to do the right thing.” Half of the punitive award will go to Missouri’s Victim Compensation Fund.
Johnson & Johnson, which tried to have the case thrown out in September, plans to appeal the case, and continues to insists there is no medical proof that talc causes cancer. Carol Goodrich, a spokesperson for J&J, claims that the company is “guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder…science, research, clinical evidence and decades of studies by medical experts around the world continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc.”
Not according to Onder. He points out that “There are over 20 medical journal articles” showing evidence that talc is carcinogenic. He adds, “The fact that they say that the science does not support it, is nothing short of an outright lie.”
Allen Smith, who also worked on the plaintiff’s case, told Bloomberg that there are “30 years of studies showing an increased risk of ovarian cancer from the use of talc.” He pointed out that Johnson & Johnson was fully aware of these risks. “They knew the public was unaware of the risk,” he said. However, rather than issuing consumer warnings, the company “developed a defense strategy to prevent government regulation of its products.”
J&J’s talc supplier, Imerys, had previously been exonerated in the earlier trials. Company representatives expressed “disappointment” with the verdict. Like J&J, Imerys continues to insist that “The theories relied upon by plaintiffs’ experts lacked scientific foundation,” said Daniel Rene, a spokesperson for Imerys. Interestingly, Imerys had previously warned J&J about the cancer risks of talc.
In any event, this issue could wind up being the undoing of Johnson & Johnson, once the “Most Trusted Brand in America.” There are at least 4,000 more talc victims with cases against the company – indicating that talc litigation may wind up being the biggest thing since Big Tobacco and asbestos.