Gloria Ristesund, a 62-year-old South Dakota woman, was awarded $55 million (5 million in compensation and $50 million in punitive damages) in a jury verdict blaming her ovarian cancer on the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) talcum powder she had been using.
Ristesund was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011, after she had been using J&J’s talc-based feminine hygiene products for around 40 years. She underwent a hysterectomy and her cancer is currently in remission.
According to 26-year-old juror Devon Small of St. Louis, it was a narrow victory for Ristesund, with jurors voting 9-3, which is the minimum required. The panel initially voted 7-5 for Ristesund.
45-year-old Teri Brickey, jury forewoman of St. Louis, said that jurors struggled to agree on whether talc was a contributing factor in ovarian cancer. “After we agreed on that, everything was easy. We felt like they knew for decades that they should have put a warning on this product,” she said.
J&J’s supplier – and co-defendant, – Imerys Talc America Inc., was cleared of any liability by the jury.
According to Allen Smith, Ristesund’s lawyer, his client used the talc, unaware of the fact that there were any health concerns. “Science has been simple and consistent over the last 40 years: There’s an increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital use of talc,” Smith told jurors.
This is the second such trial loss for the company this year. In the earlier case, J&J lost a $72 million verdict to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer. That verdict was passed in the same St. Louis courthouse where the Ristesund case was heard.
At least 1,000 more women have filed similar talc-cancer lawsuits against J&J in both federal and state courts. These lawsuits claim that J&J has been ignoring studies linking the use of talc in its Shower-to-Shower product and Johnson’s Baby Powder to ovarian cancer. The argument put forth by these women is that the company knew the risk of the use of talc and ovarian cancer, but failed to warn its customers.
Carl Tobias, who teaches product liability law at the University of Richmond in Virginia, said that as more talc verdicts come down against J&J, it adds to the public’s growing distrust of their talcum powders. “There are both economic and reputational issues that may motivate them to start thinking about a global settlement of these cases,” said Tobias. He also stated that baby powder is one of J&J’s iconic products. Tobias is not involved in the case, but opinioned that a settlement program will help dispose the talc cases.
Johnson & Johnson
J&J is the world’s largest maker of health-care products. Since the company has denied any link between the genital use of talc and ovarian cancer, it disregarded the need to warn women about any possible effects. Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokeswoman, said that the company will appeal the verdict.
“Unfortunately, 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,” said Goodrich. “Johnson & Johnson has always taken questions about the safety of our products extremely seriously.”
Before Ristesund’s lawsuit, two more lawsuits went before a jury. Ristesund’s lawsuit was preceded by a trial in the suit brought by the family of Jackie Fox who died at the age of 62. Before that, in 2013, a trial was held in federal court in South Dakota, which ended with the jury finding J&J was negligent while deciding not to award damages. J&J is expected to face another talc trial in September in the St. Louis court.
Attorney Jere Beasley represented Fox in the trial and thousands of other women and their family members contacted his firm in March after the verdict. Beasley is currently reviewing more than 5,000 potential claims. He further said that J&J will have to come to the table and start settling cases.
Use of talc and ovarian cancer
In the closing arguments, Smith told jurors Friday that J&J was aware of health concerns associated with the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. He presented company documents from the mid-1970s showing that the company knew about these health concerns. Another document dated 1992 suggested that the company target women to boost sales, as they were high users of talcum powder.
Smith also told jurors that Ristesund incurred $174,000 in medical bills, along with pain and suffering. After her hysterectomy, talc was found in her ovarian tissue. However, the defense lawyer, Christy Jones, told jurors that Ristesund had several risk factors for ovarian cancer. She had a family history of cancer, suffering endometriosis, and she had not given birth during her lifetime. All these factors may have contributed to ovarian cancer, as nobody knows with complete certainty what actually causes it, said Jones.
32-year-old juror, Kayla McGuire, along with two more jurors, sided with J&J, saying that, “there was a lack of evidence.” She said that other jurors had latched onto a few emotional statements.
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