Jury slaps J&J with $55M in damages in talcum-powder cancer case

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) lost another jury trial over cancer risks associated with its talc-based body powders. This time, jurors ordered J&J to pay $55 million to a woman who claimed her ovarian cancer was triggered by routine use of the J&J products.

In February, a jury in the same St. Louis, MO, court awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer after years of using J&J powders, including Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Powder.

This second damages award isn’t good news for the company, which faces more than 1,000 lawsuits claiming J&J downplayed the risks of talcum powder for years, and one lawyer in the litigation says he’s reviewing 5,000 more potential claims, Bloomberg reports. The company faces another jury trial in the same court in September.

Monday, the state court jurors awarded plaintiff Gloria Ristesund $5 million in compensation and $50 million in punitive damages; she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011 and underwent a hysterectomy. Her cancer is now in remission.

J&J says it will appeal the decision and will continue defending its powder products.

Verdict-wise, this is J&J’s third defeat; a federal jury found that J&J was negligent but did not award damages, Bloomberg reports. Two defeats for J&J might nudge the company toward a settlement, one liability law expert told the news service.

“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,” University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said. “There are both economic and reputational issues that may motivate them to start thinking about a global settlement of these cases.”

But J&J disputes the jury’s verdict, saying that it contradicts decades of research into talcum products. And as the news service reports, the jury vote was 9-3, the minimum required, and a previous round of voting ended 7-5.

“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,’’ spokeswoman Carole Goodrich said in an emailed statement. “Johnson & Johnson has always taken questions about the safety of our products extremely seriously.’’

- see the Bloomberg story

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