Late Monday night, a Missouri state jury ruled in favor of a plaintiff’s family, and the medical-device and pharmaceutical giant was ordered to pay $72 Million for an ovarian-cancer death linked to the company’s high-selling Baby Powder® and Shower to Shower® powder. Both products, which the Missouri woman, Jacqueline Fox, had used for decades, are talc-based; a mineral mined from the metamorphic rocks of Eastern Appalachia, which is subsequently processed, combined with fragrance, and sold in retail stores across the world. As a natural, inorganic mineral, talc has many chemical similarities to asbestos.
The verdict is the first by a U.S. jury to award both actual damages and punitive damages over the claims, and it is unlikely to be the last. Johnson & Johnson still faces thousands of lawsuits from consumers claiming that, for decades, in a pure and deliberate effort to boost company sales, J&J failed to warn that its talc-based products could cause cancer. This, in spite of overwhelming evidence that the company knew the risks as far back as the 1980's.
A Glimpse into J&J’s Shady Track Record
Johnson & Johnson, the 130-year-old company, is no stranger to lawsuits for shady business practices, and the company’s products have long been tied to dangerous health issues for decades. In the company’s 130 years, J&J has seen its profits skyrocket to the point where it is now a mainstay fortune-500 company and the largest and highest-profiting medical device company in the world. Their net worth? $275 Billion and counting.
But it’s not honorable to reproach a massive medical device conglomerate based solely on the grounds of their generating a whole lot of revenue. The basis of many Americans’ anger and resentment toward this company is in the marketing deceit that it deploys across its 100-plus product brands and thousands of products. Namely: denial. More specifically: Johnson & Johnson has known about the health risks of their talc-based products for over 40 years, but has failed to adequately warn consumers about the dangers, all the while, simultaneously opting not to take their products off the shelves and replace them with healthier alternatives. At the end of the day, J&J executives have to answer to their shareholders. And in the case of Johnson & Johnson execs and shareholders versus the health and safety of the American public, the shareholders win – and they’ve been winning for decades.
Over the span of the last few decades, dozens of Johnson & Johnson products – Tylenol®, Risperdal®, Levaquin®, Aveeno Baby Calming Comfort Lotion®, Xarelto®, and Invokana® to name a few – have been recalled, held liable in court, forced Johnson & Johnson into billion-dollar settlements, and caused the cancers and deaths of thousands of American citizens. But their products never leave the shelves. The company’s profits do not dwindle; lawsuits seem not to deter; and overall market success for the famed healthcare company keeps on soaring.
Talc’s Dangers Are Well-Known in the Medical Community
Jacqueline Fox, the plaintiff in the most recent Missouri ruling, had been using talc-based Baby Powder® and Shower to Shower® for over 35 years – it was part of her daily routine. Fox was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013, and some 2 years later, she died at the age of 62.
But Jacqueline’s story isn’t unique. Thousands of American women have stepped forward to declare that they, too, have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer from using Johnson & Johnson talc-based products. According to the Journal of Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, regular use of talc-based Baby Powder can increase a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer by as much as 30 percent. Out of the 21,000 annual new cases of ovarian cancer in the U.S., it’s estimated that 2,100 of these – or a whopping 10 percent – can be linked to regular talcum powder use.
Studies linking talc-based products to ovarian cancer in women date back to 1982, when then-professor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. David Cramer published the first scientific paper linking the two. Since then, throughout the 1990's and the start of the 21st century, dozens of studies in prominent research journals have been published which fortify Dr. Cramer’s findings.
Unfortunately, this makes Jacqueline Fox and her family only the latest victims in an ongoing trend of denial from one of the world’s most well-known healthcare companies.
Will Such a Ruling Set Any Precedent?
What is striking about the St. Louis, Missouri circuit court ruling is that the punitive damages – or damages that exceed “simple compensation” and are aimed to punish a defendant – were $62 Million. It is clear that the circuit court of St. Louis is sending the large medical device corporation a message: learn from this, stop selling products that can harm innocent American consumers, and own up to the fact that the science behind this deadly correlation is undeniable.
Jurors in the February 22nd verdict found Johnson & Johnson guilty of fraud, negligence, and conspiracy: Three things of which are accurate, and three things of which are long overdue. The plaintiff’s attorney, Jere Beasley, is quoted: “[Johnson & Johnson] knew as far back as the 1980's about the risks,” and yet, they resorted to “lying to the public, lying to regulatory agencies.”
Perhaps most disheartening of all, is that in spite of the overwhelming evidence against J&J – that they knew of the dangers since the 80's and hid that information from the public. In spite of the all of the overwhelming evidence that their talc-based products could cause ovarian cancer in women, they continue to deny any wrongdoing on their part to this very day. Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson released the following statement:
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff's family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence."
After all of the trials, after all of the lawsuits, one might think it would be enough for Johnson & Johnson to approach its well-evidenced problems head-on; but that is sadly – at least for now – not the case.