Jackie was a born nurturer. She raised two sons and provided a home to several foster children. The garden she tended with care produced award-winning flowers and vegetables that landed in her delicious home-cooked meals.
“It was like meeting a long-lost grandmother,” said Danielle Ward Mason, a principal in Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section, as she recalled meeting Jackie for the first time.
Above everything, Jackie loved her family most. But, sadly, her time with them was cut short. Decisions by executives at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) sealed Jackie’s fate. Regrettably, the pharmaceutical giant didn’t show Jackie, or the thousands of women like her, the same care or respect she had shown others.
In 2013, Jackie – or Jacqueline – Fox, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which was linked to her daily use of J&J’s baby powder in the genital area. Two years later, Jackie became one of the first plaintiffs to go to trial against J&J over the company’s failure to warn women that frequent perineal use of its talc-based products could cause ovarian cancer.
“When you get involved in these women’s lives, you’re entering at one of the scariest and toughest times they have faced. They wonder if they have the strength to go forward. They ask whether they are doing all this for nothing, or whether it is even worth going through such a scary process when their lives are potentially hanging in the balance. It is my honor and privilege to go through it with them and to fight for them in this litigation,” said Mason.
The cancer, and the efforts to eradicate it, ravaged Jackie’s body. It left her frail, seized bits and pieces of her mind, and forced her to become dependent on family and friends to meet her basic needs. Her death was slow, agonizing, dehumanizing and needless.
Mason says the issue is close to her heart. Like her clients, using J&J baby powder as part of her daily hygiene routine was engrained in her from an early age.
“Many of the women in my family used talcum powder, including me. I can definitely relate to our clients when they talk about how important the practice was to their daily hygiene regimen.” Mason says.
Her shock at learning the truth about talc quickly turned to anger after the team uncovered internal J&J documents discussing deliberate efforts to target minority women with deceptive ads about talc-based products. Based on findings from market research, the company developed an ad campaign that would manipulate the practice, which evolved into a tradition passed down from one generation to the next, among Hispanic and African American women, including Mason and Fox.
Determined to right this injustice, team members rolled up their sleeves and got to work, including preparing clients for trial who were often too sick to hold a phone to their ear, filing motions, and developing arguments.
Talcum Powder Litigation
In the past four years, Beasley Allen lawyers and many other plaintiff attorneys across the country have been privileged to represent thousands of women who developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder in the genital area. They have obtained favorable verdicts on behalf of five plaintiffs totaling more than $724 million.
J&J marketed its talcum powder as safe enough for a baby while promising women it would fight odor, reduce body moisture and keep them fresh all day. However, after countless hours of investigation and research, the legal team discovered scientific studies that showed the opposite.
Scientific evidence dating to as early as 1982 showed that the seemingly innocuous product caused cancer. The legal team also provided proof that some of the company’s top officials conspired to bury the damning evidence, consistently attempting to hide from female consumers the deadly nature of talc-based products. These decisions, made by company leaders, proved fatal for some women, including Jackie.
Fox’s trial was the culmination of many long hours of preparation, including preparing a very sick but determined client for the rigorous work inside and outside of the courtroom. A jury awarded the family a $72 million verdict. While the verdict was rewarding, Mason admits that even the legal team was just beginning to grasp the extent of the problem.
It was a turning point for the litigation, and the team realized just how uphill the battle would be against one of the country’s largest drug companies – a company with unlimited resources at its disposal and a brand that had been one of the most trusted in the U.S.
Strength in Numbers
Mason credits the network of other plaintiff attorneys from throughout the country, established by the legal team, for processing such a large number of clients and potential clients that continue to emerge.
“Litigation on this scale requires a strong team and plenty of resources,” she explains. “I am grateful every day for the lawyers at Beasley Allen and around the country who have dedicated themselves to ensuring the success of these cases going forward.”
The network is important for several reasons. From pooling resources to sharing information, to keeping everyone in the loop as far as how they approach the case, lawyers are better equipped for trial because they share the scientific evidence and the experts without duplicating costs. Clients are further empowered through the ideas shared among network members. Network attorneys also nurture alliances that may serve as a springboard for legal advocacy opportunities beyond the talc litigation.
Personally, Mason has enjoyed having another platform to raise awareness about talc’s harmful effects, as well as share clients’ stories.
She says, “For better or worse, you share in your clients’ experiences. So, it’s a privilege to celebrate the lives they lived and the hope they had by sharing their stories.”
During continuing legal education conferences and other speaking engagements, Mason frequently describes the courage talc plaintiffs exhibit, even while being robbed of their last shreds of dignity due to the cancer’s effects. More than once, fellow attorneys have thanked her for helping them get a glimpse through her clients’ eyes. She acknowledges that relating with clients on such a personal level can take an emotional toll, but she also feels every person on the team has been called to this work.
Sharing Stories to Save Lives
It’s not just about getting justice for the women who have been wronged by J&J or recruiting fellow attorneys in the fight for justice. It’s also about spreading the word about the dangers of talc. Mason and the team seizes any opportunity available to issue what she calls “public service announcements.”
“We hope that a news story about one of our clients will help women make informed choices about the products they use for themselves and for their children. Genital use of talcum powder carries too much of a risk for it not to provide any health benefit,” says Mason.
Ultimately, the team hopes J&J will at least include a warning with its talc-based products. Until it decides to do the right thing, however, the team and the larger network remains committed to securing justice for the thousands of affected women, holding a negligent corporate giant accountable, educating other consumers about the risk of ovarian cancer the products carry with them, and letting people know that there is an alternative product made with cornstarch that does not carry the same dangers.