Law360, Los Angeles (June 9, 2017, 9:52 PM EDT) Johnson & Johnson boosted talcum powder sales by targeting African-American women, who face a higher cancer risk from talc use, counsel for three women who died of ovarian cancer after using J&J’s products said during Friday opening statements in the latest Missouri jury trial over J&J’s talc products.
Allen R. Smith Jr. of the Talc Litigation Group, representing the families of deceased former J&J talcum powder product users Shawn Blaes, Angela Dawn Hershman and Eron Evans, began his opening statement by telling the jury that “this is not an ordinary case.”
Smith said that J&J had put its corporate image “over the life of their customers,” and that this would be revealed by internal company documents that showed when its sales were flagging, the company specifically targeted groups of women that used talc on their genital areas at a higher rate. These groups included African-American women — women who have been shown in studies to have an increased risk of getting ovarian cancer when using talc on their genital areas.
“The sales are slipping, they want to increase their sales, their profit,” he said. “They say, ‘What is the way that we do it? We target minority groups in an effort to boost our sales when we know there’s scientific studies that show those groups of women have an increased risk of the most deadly form of female cancer out there.’”
Smith told the jury that under the law, J&J should have put a warning label on its baby powder and Shower to Shower products, warning customers like his now-deceased clients, who would not have used the product on their genitals had there been such a warning. Smith said that the reason the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulators hadn’t made sure J&J put such a label on its products was that J&J and its talc supplier, co-defendant Imerys Talc America Inc., had engaged in a plot to influence regulators.
Blaes died at age 50 in 2010, while living in Missouri, after being diagnosed with cancer in 2008, according to an announcement by her attorneys. Virginia resident Hershman died at age 46 in 2016, two years after she was diagnosed with cancer, and Evans was a Texas resident and 41 years old when she died in 2016, after being diagnosed in in 2008, according to their attorneys. The three women shared a number of similarities in their personal and medical histories that led to their claims being consolidated for trial, according to the announcement.
On Friday, James T. Smith of Blank Rome LLP, representing J&J, told the jury during his opening statement that every allegation of wrongdoing made by Allen Smith was “absolutely rejected” by J&J.
“The suggestion that anyone from Johnson & Johnson put women at risk, by ignoring science, is an unspeakable lie,” he said. “I’m going to say it again, an unspeakable lie.”
Smith said that the science would show that talc is not harmful, and thus does not require having a warning label shown to consumers.
“Talc is not toxic, it’s not a carcinogen, it does not cause ovarian cancer, and because talc is not toxic, because talc is not a carcinogen, and because talc doesn’t cause ovarian cancer, it’s not a hazard,” he said. “Warnings are only required if there is a hazard. There is no hazard here.”
The three deceased women’s trial, presided over by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison, is the sixth such trial over the alleged link between J&J’s talcum powder products and ovarian cancer to head to trial in the city. The company has been hit with verdicts totaling over $300 million in the first handful of cases about the talc-ovarian cancer link to go to trial in St. Louis.
The first St. Louis talc trial centered on the ovarian cancer death of Jacqueline Fox. In February 2016, jurors awarded Fox’s estate $72 million. In the second trial, plaintiff Gloria Ristesund was awarded $55 million in May 2016. Plaintiff Deborah Giannecchini was awarded $70 million in October.
In March, J&J broke its losing streak, convincing a St. Louis jury that plaintiff Nora Daniels’ ovarian cancer was not connected to her daily use of talcum powder over several decades.
Last month, however, a St. Louis jury returned after little more than a full day of deliberations and awarded the largest verdict yet, awarding plaintiff Lois Slemp $110 million in compensatory and punitive damages from J&J.
Imerys was found liable only in the Giannecchini and Slemp trials, with the jury in the latter finding it was responsible for 1 percent of the blame, and $50,000 in punitive damages.