$72M Verdict in Talcum Powder Lawsuit

Posted On: May 26, 2014 under

In late February of 2016, a jury in the state of Missouri ruled that Johnson & Johnson, a huge, well-known cosmetics company, must pay damages of $72 million ($10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages) to the family of Jacqueline Fox, an Alabama woman who died of ovarian cancer at only 62 years old. The verdict was comprised of

Fox’s family claimed that the cancer was the result of her daily use of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower personal care products for over 35 years. Both products are talc based, and talc, a powder of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen, has been linked to the development of ovarian cancer in certain studies.

Although they are first to win a large financial settlement, Fox’s family is not the first to sue Johnson & Johnson over the dangers of talc in their products. In October of 2013, a South Dakota jury ruled that Deane Berg’s ovarian cancer, diagnosed at 49, was the result of years of use of the same products that Fox used. However, due to South Dakota’s law stating that damages cannot be awarded without a unanimous jury decision, Berg didn’t receive any money. But she wasn’t upset about the lack of financial compensation, saying, “I’m so relieved that the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.” (She had previously turned down an out-of-court settlement from Johnson & Johnson that would have required her to sign their confidentiality clause.)

Women like Fox and Berg, their families, and their lawyers allege that Johnson & Johnson has known about the potential dangers of talc since the ‘80s and hasn’t done so much as attach a warning label to its products, leaving consumers unaware of the potential dangers of frequent, consistent talc use. For its part, Johnson & Johnson denies the need for such a warning. Carol Goodrich, one of the company’s spokeswomen, said of the Fox case, “We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”

Unfortunately for everyone, the science is not as straightforward as Johnson & Johnson would like you to believe. The basic idea behind how talc causes ovarian cancer is that the talc travels from the genitals inside the body and up to the ovaries, where its toxicity eventually contributes to the formation of cancer. Obviously, the more frequently talc is applied to the genital area, the more often it has a chance to spread.

In 1971, British surgeons found that most ovarian tumors had talc in the tissue and that it sometimes appeared in pelvic lymph nodes. Then in 1982, a study was published that linked talc with ovarian cancer, and it was followed by a few other case-control studies that supported that finding. The most recent, from December of 2015, says there is a 33 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer with talc use because of talc’s chronic inflammation of ovarian tissue. Each of these studies has had its own limitations, however, and none has proven definitively that talc use alone can be held responsible for the cancer. In addition, over the past 15 years there have been two cohort studies that find no increase in ovarian cancer risk with talc use; unfortunately these studies also had significant limitations and are not definitive.

The final word from the medical community is, therefore, that talc use over time might increase the risk of ovarian cancer. That is of little comfort to women like Berg, whose cancer is in remission but who will forever live with the side effects of the many surgeries and chemotherapy she had to endure to treat it. She remains convinced of the link and of Johnson & Johnson’s negligence. Based on the outcome of Fox’s case, it looks like juries are starting to agree with her.