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From Products Liability Law Daily, October 28, 2016

Third Missouri jury hits J&J and its talc supplier with $70 million verdict after linking talc to ovarian cancer

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

For the third time this year, a Missouri state jury hit Johnson & Johnson with a multi-million dollar verdict after finding that the company’s talc-containing products contributed to a woman’s development of ovarian cancer after decades of using talc body powder for feminine hygiene. In addition, the state jury for the first time found J&J’s talc supplier Imerys Talc America, Inc. liable for damages as well. The verdict includes $575,000 in medical damages, $2 million in compensatory damages, and punitive damages in the amount of $65 million against J&J and $2.5 million against Imerys, according to a press release issued by Beasley Allen, the law firm representing the woman. (Giannecchini v Johnson & Johnson, filed October 27, 2016, Burlison, R.).

The complaint in this case, which was filed on behalf of over 60 plaintiffs, including the 63-year-old woman in this case, alleged that each woman had developed ovarian cancer as a direct result of using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and its Shower to Shower body powder—both of which contained talc—for more than 40 years. Specifically, the women all alleged that they had used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products to dust their perineum for feminine hygiene purposes. It was asserted in the case that this was an intended and foreseeable use of these products based on the manufacturer’s advertising, marketing, and labeling of them. It was alleged that her development of ovarian cancer was directly and proximately caused by the unreasonably dangerous and defective talc products and the manufacturer’s "wrongful and negligent conduct in the research, development, testing, manufacture, production, promotion, distribution, marketing, and sale of talcum powder." According to the timeline outlined in the complaint, Johnson & Johnson knew in 1971 about a study’s suggestion that there was a possible link between ovarian cancer and talc.

It was further alleged that at all pertinent times, cornstarch presented a feasible alternative to the use of talcum powder. Cornstarch is an organic carbohydrate that is quickly broken down by the body with no known health effects. Cornstarch powders have been sold and marketed for the same uses with nearly the same effectiveness.

"Yet another jury has heard the evidence outlining a link between Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products and ovarian cancer, and has decided that there is a clear connection," said Beasley Allen lawyer Ted Meadows, who had been helping to lead the litigation. "When is enough going to be enough? Despite repeated verdicts that hold the company accountable, Johnson & Johnson has refused to remove its talcum powder products from shelves, has refused to warn consumers about the risk, and continues to deny its responsibility. It’s time for this company to come clean and put consumer health ahead of profits."

According to the law firm’s release, approximately 25,000 women are diagnosed each year with ovarian cancer. While about one in 70 women develop the disease, studies have shown that women who use talc-containing products on their genitals as a daily hygiene habit have a 30 to 60 percent increased risk of developing the cancer. An expert at trial testified that in the last 34 years, approximately 127,000 women have died due to ovarian cancer that could be attributed to talcum powder use on their genitals.

Jury’s finding. The jury found Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. equally liable on all of the consumer’s claims and apportioned fault to these two companies at 90 percent. The jury also found Imerys Talc America, Inc., which has been in the business of mining and distributing talcum powder for use in talcum powder-based products, including the products at issue, liable on all of the consumer’s claims and apportioned fault at ten percent. After agreeing that the products contributed to the woman’s development of ovarian cancer, the jury rendered a $70.075 million verdict in favor of the consumer. The verdict included $2.575 million in actual damages and $67.5 million in punitive damages ($65 million against Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc., and $2.5 million against Imerys.).

The case is No. 1422-CC09012.

Attorneys: Allen Smith (The Smith Law Firm, PLLC) for Deborah Giannecchini. David Dukes (Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP) for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. Nancy Erfle (Gordon & Rees LLP) for Imerys Talc America Inc.

Companies: Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc.; Imerys Talc America Inc.

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