A St. Louis judge awarded $55 million to a woman who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder products for decades. On May 2, the woman received $5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages for ovarian cancer.
Though this is only the second lawsuit of its kind, more than 1,200 women have taken action against Johnson & Johnson, who reportedly knew about the link between talcum and ovarian cancer since the '70s.
Gloria Ristesund's Story
Gloria Ristesund, a South Dakota woman, regularly patted her genitals with Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower Powder. The products became a part of her routine, which she continued without fail.
After undergoing a hysterectomy, Ristesund received an ovarian cancer diagnosis. She has been through multiple surgeries, though her cancer is currently in remission.
Ristesund is one of 20,000 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list ovarian cancer as the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
Evidence of Misconduct
Studies show that long-term use of talcum powder increases the risk of ovarian cancer by 30 percent. According to legal documents, Johnson & Johnson became aware of the risk decades ago. The first study, released in the 1970s, discovered talcum particles embedded in ovarian tumors. Another study, conducted by a scientist named Cramer, came in 1982. Cramer urged manufacturers to add the risk of ovarian cancer to talcum product labeling.
The company had the option of issuing a safety announcement or updating product labeling to reflect even the slightest risk. Instead, Johnson & Johnson hired a team of scientists to wave conflicting research that downplayed the risk.
Jim Onder, an attorney involved in the recent cases, said Johnson & Johnson had been accused of marketing its talcum powder products to overweight women, African Americans, and Hispanics.
“The evidence is real clear that Johnson & Johnson has known about the dangers associated with talcum powder for over 30 years,” Onder told the NY Daily News. “Instead of giving a warning, what they did was targeted the groups most at risk for developing ovarian cancer."
First Talcum Powder Verdict
In the first lawsuit, the jury awarded $72 million in damages to an Alabama family who lost a mother to talc-based ovarian cancer in February. Jackie Fox, who passed away at age 62 a few months after the lawsuit began, had used Baby Powder throughout her life. Though it took nearly eight hours for the jury to make a decision, the verdict illustrates that the legal system may be on their side.
Johnson & Johnson has released statements defending the safety and effectiveness of its products. Although the manufacturer plans to appeal the court decision, the jury made the choice to support talc-cancer survivors.
(Updated Sept. 9, 2019) — A Missouri appeals court later threw out the 2016 verdict based on a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision that limits where companies can be sued for personal injuries.