59-year-old Jacqueline Fox was feeling pretty good even when she had been getting treatment for high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes. Raising a son along with two foster children was not an easy job for her, so she worked in restaurant kitchens and school cafeterias, and cleaned people’s houses to meet ends meet. During her free time, she liked tending to the garden in front of her home in Birmingham, Alabama. However, in spring of 2013, her dog Dexter began acting strangely. Dexter would sniff her and whine more, as if sensing something was wrong with her.
Soon enough, Fox was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. She underwent surgery to remove her uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, along with parts of her spleen and colon. She had to undergo chemotherapy to shrink the tumors and fight the cancer. In December 2013, she saw a commercial from Beasley Allen, an Alabama law firm, which suggested that there is a connection between the long-term use of Baby Powder by Johnson & Johnson and ovarian cancer.
Fox was taken aback after watching the commercial as she had been sprinkling talc on her underwear daily ever since she was a teenager. It helped her stay clean and fresh. “We ladies have to take care of ourselves,” she said in a deposition. Her son, Marvin Salter, who was a mortgage banker in Jacksonville, Florida, was quite skeptical in the beginning, as he and his mother had never heard of any ill effects from the use of baby powder. It’s been around forever and it’s put on babies, they said.
Sadly, Fox died of ovarian cancer in October 2015, just 4 months before a jury in St. Louis concluded that the use of talcum powder for genital dusting contributed to the development of ovarian cancer. In the ruling, the court also stated that Johnson & Johnson was liable for negligence, conspiracy, and failure to warn women about the potential risk between the use of Baby Powder in the genital area and ovarian cancer. The jury decided the verdict with a 10-2 vote, and included $10 million in compensatory damages and another $62 million in punitive damages. This was much more than what Fox’s lawyers had recommended. It was a sad moment for Salter who wept at the tragic loss of his mother.
“People were using something they thought was perfectly safe,” said Salter. At least they should be given the choice, which J&J failed to give. What was even more painful for Salter was the fact that the company acknowledged concerns in the health community in the 1990s, but continued to increase its marketing efforts to black and Hispanic women who were already using their product in great number. Fox was also black. According to Krista Smith, the jury foreman, internal documents clearly showed that the company was hiding something, and wanted to reward the Fox family even more.
Since 2013, J&J has spent more than $5 billion to resolve legal claims over drugs and medical devices. Johnson & Johnson also agreed to pay $2.2 billion to settle criminal and civil probes into claims that it illegally marketed an antipsychotic drug called Risperdal to children and elderly people. This was one of the largest health fraud penalties in U.S. history. The company also agreed to pay another $2.8 billion to resolve lawsuits about artificial hips and $120 million for faulty vaginal-mesh inserts. By 2015, more than 75,000 people had filed product liability claims against J&J, apart from the talcum powder cases.
Women and their families are also suing Imerys Talc America, the biggest talc supplier in the country along with J&J. Imerys is the sole source of the powder for J&J, but the company wasn’t found liable in the case. These lawsuits claim that both J&J and Imerys had known about the association between the use of talc and ovarian cancer but failed to warn their customers.
Fox was not the only woman who has sued J&J for not warning about the risks of talcum powder. The first woman to sue Johnson & Johnson was Deane Berg, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007. She turned down a $1.3 million out-of-court settlement because she didn’t want to sign a confidentiality clause. Her case soon went to trial in 2013 in a South Dakota federal court, where the jury found J&J was negligent. However, Berg was not awarded any damages.
Johnson & Johnson says it will continue to defend the safety of talc, and it does so on its website. It is up to the consumers now who have been using Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for decades to decide what they need to do.
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