ST. LOUIS – Jurors hit Johnson & Johnson with a $110 million judgment last week as they drew a link between the company’s talc powder products and a Virginia woman’s ovarian cancer.
Jurors in the 22nd Circuit Court made their decision in favor of the plaintiff, 61-year-old Lois Slemp, who was too sick from cancer treatments to appear at the trial. They called on J&J, makers of Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, to pay Slemp compensatory damages of more than $5.4 million and punitive damages of $105 million.
Imerys Talc America Inc., J&J’s talc supplier, was fined $50,000 in punitive damages by the jury, which said Imerys was 1 percent at fault in the case.
In responding to the verdict, which was the highest such payout in a series of talc trials involving J&J, both defendants expressed sympathy for those affected by ovarian cancer, but they stood by their position that talc does not heighten the risk of ovarian cancer.
Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokeswoman, said the company would begin the process of appealing this week’s verdict.
“We are preparing for additional trials this year, and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” Goodrich said in a prepared statement emailed to the St. Louis Record.
The company believes that a jury verdict in J&J’s favor in March, as well as the dismissal of two similar New Jersey cases in the fall of 2016, revealed the lack of credible scientific evidence in the plaintiffs’ charges, she said.
But one of the attorneys who represented Slemp, Ted Meadows of the Beasley Allen law firm, characterized the verdict as an affirmation that the companies put profits over people and failed to take studies linking the genital use of talc with ovarian cancer seriously.
“Once again we’ve shown that these companies ignored the scientific evidence and continue to deny their responsibilities to the women of America,” Meadows said in a prepared statement.
The Beasley Allen firm also pointed out that in 2016, three verdicts went against J&J in talc-related cases involving plaintiffs suffering from ovarian cancer. Those cases involved damages awards of $70 million, $72 million and $55 million.
During the trial, Meadows and plaintiff attorney Allen Smith put on the stand researchers who testified about 20 medical studies that they said showed a statistically significant link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. But defense attorneys cited cohort studies and research by government agencies – including the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute – saying there is no established link between talc and ovarian cancer.
In an emailed statement to the St. Louis Record, Gwen Myers of Imerys Talc America Inc., maintained that talc is a safe product and that the recent verdict would undermine efforts to determine the real causes of ovarian cancer.
“We are disappointed by the jury’s decision, but we remain confident in the consensus of government agencies and professional scientific organizations that have reviewed the safety of talc, that talc is safe,” Myers said.
Smith ended his closing statement in the case with a portion of an audio recording of Slemp saying that she trusted in the safety of J&J’s products. “I trusted them,” she said. “Big mistake.”
The plaintiff’s attorneys also showed the jury internal company documents that they said proved that J&J had known about the dangers of talc reported in epidemiology studies for decades but either dismissed or tried to obscure to findings.
“They chose to put profits over people, spending millions in efforts to manipulate scientific and regulatory scrutiny,” attorney Meadows said after the verdict.
Defense attorney Orlando Richmond ended his closing comments to jurors with a National Cancer Institute statement on April 7: “The weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.”
Richmond didn’t respond to the Record’s request for comment on Friday.
Defense attorneys also put Dr. Warner K. Huh, a gynecological oncologist, on the stand to testify about Slemp’s other medical conditions, which the defense said could have been factors that helped to cause the tumors on her ovaries. Slemp was a longtime smoker who is morbidly obese and has a medical history of hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, according to her medical records.
“She had a truly profound family history of cancer,” Huh said, and he concluded that she would have been subject to ovarian tumors whether she had used talc or not.
That testimony didn’t seem to carry much weight with jurors, however. They sided with Slemp in all of her claims against J&J and Talc America indicating conspiracy, implied warranty and negligence.