Jury awards $55 million to woman who blamed talc for cancer
J&J says it will appeal second loss in St. Louis courthouse
Johnson & Johnson must pay $55 million to a 62-year-old South Dakota woman who blamed her ovarian cancer on the company’s talcum powder in the second such trial loss this year.
J&J is accused in more than 1,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts of ignoring studies linking its Shower-to-Shower product and Johnson’s Baby Powder to ovarian cancer. Women contend the company knew the risk and failed to warn customers. In February, J&J lost a $72 million verdict in the same St. Louis courthouse to the family of a woman who died of the disease.
“The more talc verdicts that come down against them adds to the public’s growing distrust of their baby powder, which is one of their iconic products,” said Carl Tobias, who teaches product-liability law at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “There are both economic and reputational issues that may motivate them to start thinking about a global settlement of these cases.”
J&J should consider setting up a settlement program to dispose of the talc cases, said Tobias, who isn’t involved in the case.
State court jurors Monday awarded $5 million in compensation and $50 million in punitive damages to Gloria Ristesund, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 after using J&J’s talc-based feminine hygiene products for almost 40 years. Ristesund’s cancer, after she underwent a hysterectomy, is in remission.
“Science has been simple and consistent over the last 40 years: There’s an increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital use of talc,’’ Allen Smith, Ristesund’s lawyer, told jurors Friday. Ristesund used talc for four decades unaware there were any health concerns, he said.
J&J, the world’s largest maker of health-care products, denied any link between talc and ovarian cancer or any need to warn women. The company will appeal the verdict, Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
“Unfortunately, the jury’s decision goes against 30 years of studies by medical experts around the word that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc,’’ Goodrich said. “Johnson & Johnson has always taken questions about the safety of our products extremely seriously.’’
The jury cleared J&J’s supplier and co-defendant, Imerys Talc America Inc., of any liability.
The outcome was a narrow victory for the plaintiff, with jurors voting 9-3 for Ristesund, the minimum required. The panel initially voted 7-5 for Ristesund, said juror Devon Small, 26, of St. Louis.
Jurors struggled to agree on whether talc was a contributing factor in ovarian cancer, said jury forewoman Teri Brickey, 45, of St. Louis. “After we agreed on that, everything was easy,” she said. “We felt like they knew for decades that they should have put a warning on this product.”
Ristesund’s lawsuit is the third to go to before a jury, preceded by the trial in the suit brought by the family of Jackie Fox, who died at 62. An earlier trial in federal court in South Dakota in 2013 ended with a jury finding that J&J was negligent while deciding not to award damages. The company faces another talc trial in the St. Louis court in September.
Thousands of women or their family members contacted plaintiffs’ lawyers after the Fox verdict, attorney Jere Beasley said in March. His firm, one of several representing the Fox family and Ristesund, is reviewing more than 5,000 potential claims, he said in an interview.
Ristesund’s case was a “defense pick” after the plaintiffs selected the first case to go to trial, Beasley said in an interview Monday. “If they can’t win that one, they can’t win one. They’re going to have to come to the table and start settling cases.”
J&J documents showed the company was aware of health concerns since the mid-1970s, Smith told jurors Friday in closing arguments. A 1992 document suggested targeting women who were high users of talcum powder to boost sales, he said.
Ristesund incurred $174,000 in medical bills, plus pain and suffering, Smith told jurors. Talc was found in her ovarian tissue after the hysterectomy, he said.
Christy Jones, a J&J attorney, told jurors that Ristesund had several risk factors for ovarian cancer, That included a family history of cancer, having endometriosis and the fact she had no children, Jones said. “Nobody knows what causes ovarian cancer,” she said.
Three jurors sided with J&J. “I just thought there was a lack of evidence,” juror Kayla McGuire, 32, said in an interview after the verdict. Other jurors had “latched onto a few emotional statements,” she said.
The case is Hogans v. Johnson & Johnson, 1422-CC09012-01, Circuit Court, St. Louis City, Missouri.