A jury in St. Louis, Mo., last month found two Johnson & Johnson companies legally responsible for injuries resulting from the use of their talc-containing products. The products were Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder used for feminine hygiene. The jury awarded the family of Plaintiff Jacqueline Fox $72 million after finding that the products contributed to the development of her ovarian cancer and her death. The verdict includes $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. The jury found the two Johnson & Johnson companies guilty of negligence, failure to warn, and conspiracy.
Ms. Fox was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 59 in 2013. She had been a lifetime user of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene. Ms. Fox died on Oct. 6, 2015. Johnson & Johnson has never warned of the cancer risk, a risk known to the Defendants, on these products.
What Johnson and Johnson did to cover up what it knew to be the deadly risk associated with its centerpiece product was without a doubt outrageous. It’s absolutely impossible to imagine how corporate executives could be so callous. The internal company documents that were brought to light in this trial showed clearly that the two companies knew of the link between talc use and ovarian cancer as far back as 1979. The companies never thought that anybody – especially a jury – would ever see these documents. The documents were withheld from the FDA and all other organizations that should have had access to them. In fact, the Defendants called six highly paid experts during the trial and not one of them had ever seen the documents.
When the deadly risk became known to the companies, they had a choice to make. They could either warn customers of the dangers of talc or hide the risk and keep on selling the products to women. Johnson and Johnson chose to hide the risk and keep selling. They were willing to run the risk of litigation and Ms. Fox paid with her life. Thousands of other women have also paid that price and until Johnson & Johnson changes others will die in the future.
Jacqueline Fox was an incredible lady whose life was cut far too short by the callous decisions by the bosses at Johnson and Johnson. These officers have known for decades – literally decades – that the talc contained in its products could cause ovarian cancer. Instead of warning customers, Johnson & Johnson executives made the decision to hide the risk and keep on selling. The internal documents tell a horrifying and infuriating story of corporate greed and a callous indifference to human life. We are honored to represent the family of Ms. Fox and to be able to bring to light the misdeeds of Johnson & Johnson.
An estimated 20,000 women are diagnosed each year with ovarian cancer, and more than 14,000 die. The disease strikes about one in 70 women. An expert at trial testified at least 45,000 women have died as a result of ovarian cancer that could be attributed to talcum powder use by women. An estimated 1,500 women will die this year as a result of talc use. Unless Johnson & Johnson changes its “corporate mind” and starts warning women, women will continue to die.
In 1997, one of Johnson & Johnson’s own medical consultants warned against “denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.” He said there were many studies showing the association of talc with ovarian cancer with “more to come.” I have requested that Johnson & Johnson make all of the internal documents the jurors saw about the dangers of talc available to the public on its website. Nobody – other than the jurors – have ever seen the incriminating documents and that includes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The public is entitled to have access to these internal documents and then they can decide if the St. Louis jury did the right thing.
When the jury saw the reports on studies – along with internal letters and memos that Johnson & Johnson had in its files about talc dangers – the jurors were shocked. Obviously this company knew its product had a link to ovarian cancer, but chose to do nothing and refused to warn women. As the jury foreperson said after the verdict, “all J&J had to do was put a warning label on the box. But they didn’t. They did nothing.’”
The reason punitive damages are so important is that it sends a message to huge corporations that people are not going to tolerate this kind of lying and deception. An award of punitive damages is the only language the bosses at these companies really understand. It’s the only way to get them to act. Obviously, Johnson & Johnson was told by scientists and doctors about the cancer risk for decades, but the bosses wouldn’t listen. In fact, even during the trial they still refused to change their ways. But now they have had to listen to this jury – to 12 men and women in St. Louis – and the message sent was loud and clear. These jurors are a voice for so many women who never knew what caused their ovarian cancer and for those women in the future who deserve to be warned. This verdict is why the civil justice system is so important to the consumers in America.
I was honored to be a part of the trial team in this important case. Others involved from our firm were Ted Meadows, David Dearing and Danielle Mason. Jim Onder, Wylie Blair and Stephanie Rados, all from St. Louis, along with Allen Smith, Jr., from Mississippi, also represented the Plaintiff in the case.
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