Abbey Sinclair May 9, 2016, 1:10pm


ST. LOUIS — Johnson & Johnson is expected to appeal a $55 million jury verdict reached May 2 in St. Louis City Circuit Court in favor of a 62-year woman who claimed its talcum powder caused her ovarian cancer.

“The evidence presented to the jury misrepresented and distorted the science regarding talc and ovarian cancer,” Gene Williams, an attorney for J&J, told the Record. “The scientific reality is that cosmetic talc does not cause cancer.”

Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement that the jury’s decision “goes against 30 years of studies by medical experts around the world that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc.”

“We understand that women and families affected by ovarian cancer are searching for answers, and we deeply sympathize with all who have been affected by this devastating disease with no known cause,” Goodrich stated.

“Johnson & Johnson has always taken questions about the safety of our products extremely seriously. Multiple scientific and regulatory reviews have determined that talc is safe for use in cosmetic products and the labeling on Johnson’s Baby Powder is appropriate. For over 100 years, Johnson & Johnson has provided consumers with a safe choice for cosmetic powder products and we will continue to work hard to exceed consumer expectations and evolving product preferences. We will appeal the recent verdict and continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.”

More than 1,000 suits against the company have mounted in state and federal courts across the country. Multi-district litigation (MDL) has been discussed, but has not been established for the claims arising across the country.

The lawsuits claim J&J had in-depth knowledge of the link between ovarian cancer and their talc-based products for decades, as far back as the 1970s. Plaintiffs say the company did nothing in order to continue selling more products, even targeting the women who grew up using them.

Last week’s verdict for plaintiff Gloria Ristesund of South Dakota - awarded $50 million in punitive damages and $5 million in compensatory damages - came on the heels of a $72 million verdict in St. Louis in February for the family of Jacqueline Fox, a 62-year-old woman from Alabama who died of ovarian cancer last fall.

Just as Fox’s pathologist allegedly found talc particles in her ovaries, some studies from 1971 on have supported a link between talc and ovarian cancer. When dusted on genitals, underwear or sanitary products, the studies note that talc particles can travel up the reproductive tract where they can eventually become lodged in the ovaries, inflamed, and possibly lead to cancer.  

“It was a great win for a very deserving lady,” said plaintiff attorney David Dearing of Beasley Allen in Montgomery, Ala.

“She [Ristesund] went through a very traumatic and life-changing event and we couldn’t be happier for her. J&J has known for a long time — decades — that their talc products have been associated with ovarian cancer. We hope that these verdicts will force them to take note, do the right thing, and put a warning label on their products because women should know that they are at an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer if they use them.”

According to Beasley Allen founder Jere Beasley, Ristesund's case was slated as a "defense pick" after the plaintiffs first selected the Fox case to go to trial

"If they can't win that one, they can't win one,” Beasley said. “They're going to have to come to the table and start settling cases."

In a press release, Beasley is quoted as saying: “We are calling on the bosses at J&J to establish a compensation fund that will be adequate to compensate all of the thousands of victims who have suffered greatly because of Johnson & Johnson’s intentional wrongdoing. We are also calling on this company to either pull the talc products from the market or at the very least give an adequate warning to women so they can make an informed choice. If J&J refuses, our law firm and those other firms working with us are dedicated to continuing our mission, and that is to obtain total and complete justice for all of Johnson & Johnson’s victims. The ball is in their court and our hope is J&J will change its corporate culture and do the right thing.”

The first talc case went to trial in federal court in South Dakota in 2013 on the claims of plaintiff  Deane Berg of Sioux Falls. A physician’s assistant, Berg was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer at age 49 in 2006.

The jury did not award Berg monetary damages, but it did, however, declare that Johnson & Johnson had intentionally hidden facts about the risks of talcum powder use and cancer.

The next talcum powder case in Missouri is scheduled for September.

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