Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $55m over cancer linked to talc

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(Bloomberg) -- Johnson & Johnson 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.
 
State court jurors in St. Louis 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.
 
In February, J&J lost a $72 million verdict in the same courthouse to the family of a woman who died of the disease.
 
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.
 
“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 Friday. Ristesund used talc for four decades unaware there were any health concerns, he said.
 
J&J denied any link between talc and ovarian cancer or any need to warn women. J&J will appeal the verdict, Carol Goodrich, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
 
“Unfortunately, the jury’s decision goes against 30 years of studies by medical experts around the word 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.’’
 
Third Trial
 
Ristesund’s lawsuit is the third to go to before a jury, preceded by the trial in the suit brought by the family of Jackie Fox, who died at 62. An earlier trial in federal court in South Dakota in 2013 ended with a jury finding that J&J was negligent while deciding not to award damages.
 
Thousands of women or their family members contacted plaintiffs’ lawyers after the Fox verdict, attorney Jere Beasley said in March. His firm, one of several representing the Fox family and Ristesund, is reviewing more than 5,000 potential claims, he said in an interview.
 
J&J documents showed the company was aware of health concerns since the mid-1970s, Smith told jurors Friday in closing arguments. A 1992 document suggested targeting women who were high users of talcum powder to boost sales, he said.
 
Ristesund incurred $174,000 in medical bills, plus pain and suffering, Smith told jurors. Talc was found in her ovarian tissue after the hysterectomy, he said.
 
J&J Supplier
 
The jury didn’t award damages against J&J’s supplier and co-defendant, Imerys Talc America Inc.
 
Smith didn’t specify an amount for damages, while asking jurors to award enough to send a message to J&J.
 
“Compensating my client with a significant amount could change their behavior,’’ Smith said.
 
Ristesund had several risk factors for ovarian cancer, Christy Jones, a J&J attorney told jurors. That included a family history of cancer, having endometriosis and the fact she had no children, Jones said. “Nobody knows what causes ovarian cancer,’’ she said.
 
The case is Hogans v. Johnson & Johnson, 1422-CC09012-01, Circuit Court, St. Louis City, Missouri.
 

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