When a St. Louis jury found that Johnson & Johnson talc was not only responsible for a woman’s fatal case of ovarian cancer, but had also known about talc’s dangers for decades, it was only a matter of time before more information on the topic would be forced out of the shadows.
The jury wasn’t happy with J&J, and their fury came through in their verdict. While $10 million was awarded to the late victim’s family as compensation for their loss, an additional $62 million was awarded as punishment for the company’s lack of action in the face of that knowledge.
That $62 million punishment appears to be just the beginning.
In the second trial of its kind, a jury in South Dakota awarded a woman $55 million after determining that her ovarian cancer was the result of long-term use of Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based feminine hygiene products – long term use that occurred because she trusted the company and its products.
The award comes with a similar financial split. $5 million was awarded in compensation for her illness while the remaining $50 million comes as a punitive award against J&J for their role in causing the plaintiff’s cancer. Her lawyer contends that his client used Johnson & Johnson talc products for 40 years; while company officials knew about the dangers of feminine use of talc the whole time.
Johnson & Johnson continues to publicly deny that there are any risks associated with using talc, and even assert its safety. Behind the scenes, however, a completely separate story emerges. Multiple trials have now cited internal J&J documents showing that the company had concerns over the safety of talc since the 70s.
Documents go on to show that despite this knowledge, company executives launched a campaign that specifically targeted women as a way to boost sales. Johnson & Johnson wasn’t trying to diminish sales of its potentially dangerous product. Instead, the company found that women use more talc than men and created campaigns that targeted women to get them to buy more of it.
Over 1,000 talc lawsuits await trial in state and federal courts across the country. And, while both sides continue to cite scientific studies to make their point, certain facts are indisputable. Most notably thus far is that documents show that Johnson & Johnson has been worried about talc safety since Richard Nixon was president. Interestingly, talc was removed as the main ingredient in the company’s line of baby powder in the 70s and replaced with corn starch.
Two decades later, an internal memo from the late 90s reinforces the danger of talc. The author of that memo goes so far as to say that those who would deny talc’s link to ovarian cancer is to refuse to live in reality. These are very strong words written from a desk inside Johnson & Johnson.
A study conducted in early 2016 found a 33 percent increase in the risk of ovarian cancer for women who routinely used talc for feminine hygiene. And when South Dakota plaintiff Gloria Ristesund had a hysterectomy to save her life after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer after 40 years of talc use, doctors found talc in her ovarian tissue.
They can issue all the denials they want, but it’s getting harder and harder to trust the world’s largest healthcare product manufacturer.