Johnson & Johnson is appealing two multimillion-dollar verdicts – including $112 million in punitive damages – after two separate juries found the company liable for concealing an increased risk of ovarian cancer directly linked to talcum powder use. In comments to Legal NewsLine, the company claims that we “deliberately created confusion about the science of talc.” Jere L. Beasley, Principal & Founder of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., says this is the ultimate example of a corporate defendant attempting to mislead the media and the public, and is demanding the company release all confidential internal documents and the trial transcripts to the news media, including the editorial boards, so that the truth will be made known to all concerned.
“It is the height of irony that Johnson & Johnson would claim that our trial team are the ones trying to create confusion surrounding the scientific evidence linking use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene to ovarian cancer,” Beasley said. “We have internal documents – including one from talc supplier Imerys – where the companies have bragged for years about the need to create more confusion regarding the issue of cancer and talc. I challenge Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers to meet with me anytime, anywhere, so that we can jointly release all internal documents and the trial transcripts. What are they hiding from?”
On May 2, a jury in the City of St. Louis Circuit Court found Johnson & Johnson liable for ovarian cancer linked to genital use of its talcum powder products. The jurors awarded Gloria Ristesund $55 million, which included $5 million in actual damages and $50 million in punitive damages. In February, another jury had awarded the family of Jacqueline Fox $72 million, holding Johnson & Johnson liable for her ovarian cancer death. In that verdict, $62 million was punitive damages. The purpose of awarding punitive damages is to punish a company for wrongdoing and to compel it to change its actions.
Documents shown to the jury during the trial indicated that Johnson & Johnson’s own consultants advised the company that numerous scientific studies supported a clear link between genital use of talcum powder and an increased risk of ovarian cancer. In a letter dated in 1997, Dr. Alfred Wehner, a paid consultant for J&J, warns a Johnson & Johnson executive that anyone who continued to deny the evidence presented by these studies “…will be perceived by the public like it perceives the cigarette industry: denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.” There are a multitude of internal documents from J&J revealing that Johnson & Johnson knew of the cancer risk associated with its talc products.
An estimated 25,000 women are diagnosed each year with ovarian cancer, and more than 14,000 die. The disease strikes about one in 70 women, though studies show that women who use talc-containing products on their genitals have a one in 50 chance of developing the disease. Expert testimony at trial revealed at least 45,000 women have died as a result of ovarian cancer that could be attributed to talcum powder use on the genitals, and an estimated 2,500 women will die within the next year as a result of talc use.