Health giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million in damages to the family of an Alabama woman who died from ovarian cancer allegedly caused by using the company’s Baby Powder and other products that contained talc for feminine hygiene.
A St. Louis jury reached the verdict Monday night, awarding the family of Jackie Fox, $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages, AP reported.
After her cancer diagnosis, Fox, who lived in Birmingham, Ala., joined dozens of women suing the company for what they said was a failure to inform consumers about the dangers of talc, which is found in baby powder.
During the trial, Fox’s lawyers claimed that the company was aware of the possible risk of using products containing talc for feminine hygienic use ovarian cancer.
A 1997 internal memo from a company medical consultant said "anybody who denies” the risk of using hygienic talc and ovarian cancer is "denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary,” AP reported.
But “it’s hard to directly link ovarian cancer to talc," Eva Chalas, chief of Gynecologic Oncology and Director of Clinical Cancer Services at Winthrop-University Hospital, said in a phone interview.
"The information on talc powder came out many years ago when they saw talc incorporated in tissue of women with ovarian cancer," Chalas said. She said concerns over talc led many doctors to advise mothers to stop using talcum powder on their babies, and to discontinue use for feminine hygiene.
She said it's important to note that in the past talcum powder contained talc that contained asbestos, but modern powder does not.
"Some cancer may have been from years ago potential contamination with asbestos when they made the talcum powder," Chalas said.
Fox’s son, Marvin Salter of Jacksonville, Fla., took over the claim after his mother’s death in 2015, two years after her cancer diagnosis, AP reported.
An attorney for Fox said this is the first claim case to result in monetary compensation.
Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, said the company stands by the talc used in all “global products” and they are “evaluating” their legal options.
“The recent U.S. verdict goes against decades of sound science proving the safety of talc as a cosmetic ingredient in multiple products, and while we sympathize with the family of the plaintiff, we strongly disagree with the outcome,” Goodrich said in a statement.
Chalas said when it comes to using products on the genitals it's better to be safe than sorry.
“People should be careful about what they apply to their genitals, but in terms of ovarian cancer, the majority of women who develop ovarian do so from other risk factors including – age, genetic predisposition, reproductive issues and whether they were on birth control,” Chalas said.
Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford University law professor, told AP the decision "doesn't bode well” for the company, which is facing 1,200 still-pending lawsuits.
The company is expected to appeal the verdict.
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