Johnson & Johnson Hit with $55 Million Verdict in Talc Powder Trial

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Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick NJ) must pay $55 million to a 62-year-old South Dakota woman who blamed her ovarian cancer on the company’s talcum powder in the second such trial loss this year.

J&J is accused in more than 1,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts of ignoring studies linking its Shower-to-Shower product and Johnson’s Baby Powder to ovarian cancer. Women contend the company knew the risk and failed to warn customers.

In February, J&J lost a $72 million verdict in the same St. Louis courthouse to the family of a woman who died of the disease.

“The more talc verdicts that come down against them adds to the public’s growing distrust of their baby powder, which is one of their iconic products,” said Carl Tobias, who teaches product-liability law at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “There are both economic and reputational issues that may motivate them to start thinking about a global settlement of these cases.”

J&J should consider setting up a settlement program to dispose of the talc cases, said Tobias, who isn’t involved in the case. State court jurors last Monday awarded $5 million in compensation and $50 million in punitive damages to Gloria Ristesund, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 after using J&J’s talc-based feminine hygiene products for almost 40 years. Ristesund’s cancer, after she underwent a hysterectomy, is in remission.

“Science has been simple and consistent over the last 40 years: There’s an increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital use of talc,” Allen Smith, Ristesund’s lawyer, told jurors the previous Friday. Ristesund used talc for four decades unaware there were any health concerns, he said.

J&J, the world’s largest maker of healthcare products, denied any link between talc and ovarian cancer or any need to warn women. The company will appeal the verdict, Carol Goodrich, a J&J spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“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,” Goodrich said. “Johnson & Johnson has always taken questions about the safety of our products extremely seriously.”

The outcome was a narrow victory for the plaintiff, with jurors voting 9-3 for Ristesund, the minimum required.  Jurors struggled to agree on whether talc was a contributing factor in ovarian cancer, said jury forewoman Teri Brickey, 45, of St. Louis. “After we agreed on that, everything was easy,” she said. “We felt like they knew for decades that they should have put a warning on this product.”

J&J shares closed the week up 1% at $112.75.