Johnson & Johnson must pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to decades of use of the company's baby powder and Shower to Shower body powder, a Missouri jury said late Monday.
It's a case that exemplifies, according to Alexandra Scranton, director of science and research at advocacy group Women's Voices for the Earth, the "great extent that industry will go" to sell their product even in the face of evidence of the harm it causes.
Jacqueline Fox of Birmingham, Ala. died in October 2015 when she was 62 years old, 35 years after using the products regularly for feminine hygiene. As the Washington Post reports, she was "among more than 1,200 women from across the country who were suing Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn consumers of the dangers associated with talc, the mineral used in baby powder."
At the end of the three-week trial, FairWarning reports, jurors in the circuit court of St. Louis "found Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies Inc., guilty of negligence, failure to warn and conspiracy to conceal the risks of its products."
The jurors awarded Fox's family $10 million of actual damages and $62 million of punitive damages. Jim Onder, one of the lead attorneys, said that roughly $31 million would go toward the Missouri Crime Victim Compensation Fund, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Among the evidence seen by jurors, according to the Associated Press, was a 1997 internal memo from a medical consultant to the company,
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suggesting that “anybody who denies (the) risks” between “hygenic” talc use and ovarian cancer will be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
Onder also said that
the company spent 30 years preparing for litigation over the risk. He said one company internal document talks about declining product use because of increased awareness of the health risk, and how to grow the franchise by targeting blacks and Hispanics as the highest users of talcum powder. Fox was black.
Juror Jerome Kendrick said his decision was a largely result of internal memos, and said the company "tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics."
Scranton told Common Dreams that the company was trying to take advantage of the uncertainty regarding talc and its links to cancer and risks from vaginal exposure to chemicals. Yet, rather than taking the "clearly more ethical role, to take a precautionary approach," Johnson & Johnson "made the decision to defend the product" and risk women's health, and even "poured money over years into defending talc," she said.
It also shows, Scranton said, how much research is needed into women's health, as there may be many other products that pose similar risks.
The company is expected to appeal the verdict, news agencies report.