Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a St. Louis jury to pay $72 million to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer and said that her decades-use of the pharma company’s talc-based powder products contributed to the disease.
Jurors in the state’s court awarded the family of Jacqueline Fox $10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million of punitive damages, according to the family’s lawyers and court records. The verdict is the first financial award in a lawsuit over such claims.
J&J faces claims that it failed for decades to warn consumers that its talc-based products could cause cancer. The company is facing about 1,200 lawsuits claiming studies have linked its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products to ovarian cancer. About a thousand of those have been filed in Missouri state court, and the remainder in New Jersey.
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial,” Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokesperson, told Bloomberg. “We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”
Fox, who lived in Birmingham, Alabama, claimed she used Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene for more than 35 years. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago, and died in October at age 62.
The trial lasted for three weeks, and deliberations were four hours long. Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which acquired the Shower to Shower brand in 2012, was not involved in the case.
Jere Beasley, a lawyer for Fox’s family said J&J “knew as far back as the 1980s of the risk,” and still continued “lying to the public, lying to the regulatory agencies,” according to a Reuters article.
J&J introduced a baby powder that uses cornstarch in the 1970s, but continues selling products that contain talc. The company maintains that talc is safe: “The evidence is very clear” that the cancer’s cause is not known, said Gene Williams, a lawyer for J&J.
Several studies have for decades linked talc powder with cancer, calling it a “possible carcinogen.” In 1971, British researchers analyzed 13 ovarian tumors under a microscope and found talc particles embedded in 10 of the tumors.
In 1982, the journal Cancer published the first study linking talc powder with ovarian cancer. Lead author Dr. Daniel Cramer, a gynecologist and Harvard Medical School professor, has since been involved in other studies on this association, his latest published in Epidemiology in December 2015. He testified in the J&J court case as a paid expert witness.
There have been approximately 20 epidemiological studies that have found increased rates of ovarian cancer risk for women using talc for hygienic reasons, although some studies have not found an association.
The evidence linking talc powder and ovarian cancer — many of the studies are case-control studies, rather than cohort studies — is weak, showing only a “modest increase,” according to the Cancer Research UK.