Behind the $55 Million Talc Verdict: J&J Knew About Cancer Risks Since the 1970s

Jacqueline Fox, who died in xxx of ovarian cancer after using J&J talc products for decades.
Jacqueline Fox, who died in 2015 of ovarian cancer after using J&J talc products for decades.

For the second time in three months, jurors blasted Johnson & Johnson with an 8-figure verdict in a trial charging that the company knew that its talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Powder causes ovarian cancer, and failed to warn women who used it.

Talc was found in the ovarian tissue after a hysterectomy of the plaintiff, Gloria Ristesund of Sioux Falls, SD, in the latest verdict in St. Louis. The jury awarded her $55 million ($5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitives).

She was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 after using J&J’s talc-based feminine hygiene products for almost 40 years. The case is Hogans v. Johnson & Johnson, 1422-CC09012, Circuit Court, St. Louis City, Missouri, filed by 64 plaintiffs. The case charges J&J with fraud, negligence and conspiracy.

Another jury in the same courthouse awarded $72 million ($10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in punitives) to the family of Jacqueline Fox of Birmingham, AL, who used Johnson’s baby powder for 35 years. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013 and died last year.

1,200 Cancer Lawsuits

The plaintiffs were represented by:

  • Jere L. Beasley, Ted G. Meadows, David P. Dearing and Danielle Ward Mason from Beasley Allen, in Montgomery, AL.
  • Stephanie Rados, James G. Onder, Michael J. Quillin and W. Wylie Blair of the St. Louis firm Onder, Shelton, O’Leary & Peterson, LLC
  • R. Allen Smith, Jr., of The Smith Law Firm from Ridgeland, Miss.
  • Timothy W. Porter, Patrick C. Malouf and John T. Givens from the firm of Porter & Malouf, PA, in Jackson, Miss.

James Onder, one of the lead attorneys, was a featured speaker at the March 11–14, 2016, Four Days to Mass Tort Success Course.

J&J is facing 1,200 lawsuits in Missouri and New Jersey, charging it with failing to warn consumers about the cancer risks. At the moment there is not a pending talcum powder cancer lawsuit MDL (multi-district litigation docket), although one may be established. When cases are consolidated in this way in federal court it is called an MDL, and on a state level it is known as a state court consolidated proceeding.

Researchers have asked 2,041 women with ovarian cancer and 2,100 similar women without ovarian cancer about their talcum powder use. Those who said they routinely applied talc to their genital area, feminine products and underwear were at 33% higher risk of ovarian cancer, the study showed.

Author Dr. Daniel W. Cramer, who heads the Obstetrics and Gynecology Epidemiology Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has unsuccessfully called for warning labels on talcum powder in the past. Cramer first reported a link between genital talc and ovarian cancer in 1982.

“This is an easily modified risk factor,” he said. “Talc is a good drying agent, but women should know that if it’s used repeatedly, it can get into the vagina and into their upper genital tract. And I think if they knew that, they wouldn’t use it.”

Cramer has testified as a paid expert in various lawsuits against talcum powder manufacturers.

Juror Cites Cover-Up

Jacqueline Fox, Birmingham Alabama
Jacqueline Fox of Birmingham, Alabama

One juror, Jerome Kendrick, 50, told a St. Louis newspaper that  the company’s internal memos “pretty much sealed my opinion,” Kendrick said. “They tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics.” He added, “They could have at least put a warning label on the box but they didn’t. They did nothing.”

Numerous research studies have shown the connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer:

  • In 1971, the first study was conducted that suggested an association between talc and ovarian cancer. This study was conducted by Dr. WJ Henderson and others in Cardiff, Wales.
  • In 1982, the first epidemiologic study was performed on talc powder use in the female genital area. This study was conducted by Dr. Daniel Cramer and others. They found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who reported genital talc use.
  • Shortly after this study was published, Dr. Bruce Semple of Johnson & Johnson came and visited Dr. Cramer about his study. Dr. Cramer advised Dr. Semple that Johnson & Johnson should place a warning on its talcum powders about the ovarian cancer risks so that women can make an informed decision about their health.
  • Since 1982, there have been approximately 22 additional epidemiologic studies providing data regarding the association of talc and ovarian cancer. Nearly all of these studies have reported an elevated risk for ovarian cancer associated with genital talc use in women.
  • In 1993, the United States National Toxicology Program published a study on the toxicity of non-asbestiform talc and found clear evidence of carcinogenic activity. Talc was found to be a carcinogen, with or without the presence of asbestos-like fibers.

Companies conspire to prevent regulation

In response to the United States National Toxicology Programs study, the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) formed the Talc Interested Party Task Force (TIPTF). Johnson & Johnson was a member of the CTFA and was the primary actors and contributors of the TIPTF. The stated purpose of the TIPTF was to pool financial resources of these companies in an effort to collectively defend talc use at all costs and to prevent regulation of any type over this industry.

According to the womens’ lawsuit, the TIPTF hired scientists to perform biased research regarding the safety of talc, members of the TIPTF edited scientific reports of the scientists hired by this group prior the submission of these scientific reports to governmental agencies, members of the TIPTF knowingly released false information about the safety of talc to the consuming public, and used political and economic influence on regulatory bodies regarding talc.

These activities have been well coordinated by these companies over the past four decades in an effort to prevent regulation of talc and to create confusion to the consuming public about the true hazards of talc relative to ovarian cancer.

Larry Bodine

Attorney Larry Bodine is Editor of Mass Tort Nexus, and the Editor of The National Trial Lawyers. He is the former Editor in Chief of Lawyers.com and the American Bar Association Journal. He is a cum laude graduate of both Seton Hall University Law School and Amherst College.

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