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Johnson and Johnson Ordered to Pay Damages for Wrongful Death

Written By: A. Wilt

March 2016

On February 26, 2016, a Missouri jury became the first in the nation to force Johnson and Johnson to pay damages to the family of a woman who had died of ovarian cancer.

The case, Hogans et al v Johnson & Johnson et al, which was filed in Missouri Circuit Court, was a suit with 65 Plaintiffs, but its primary finding held Johnson and Johnson responsible for fraud and wrongful death in the case of Jacqueline Fox, who passed away from ovarian cancer in October of 2015.

Johnson and Johnson Ordered to Pay Damages for Wrongful Death

The suit alleged that Johnson and Johnson knew about the dangers of its talcum products, specifically its baby powder and its Shower to Shower product, commonly used in feminine hygiene to absorb moisture, and which Ms. Fox had used regularly for over three decades. Beyond knowing about the dangers, Johnson and Johnson was found to have failed in its duty to warn consumers of the dangers of using its product. The family was awarded $10 million in damages, and a further $62 million in punitive damages.

Jere Beasley, the attorney for Ms. Fox's family, said the case is the first such case where damages have been awarded. He also said that the company has known about the risks of their products since the 1980s and did not do anything about it, further accusing them of 'lying to the public' and 'lying to regulatory agencies.'

While the jury is the first to award damages, it is not the first case that Johnson and Johnson has become embroiled in on this issue. In 2013, a jury in South Dakota found that Johnson and Johnson products had contributed to a Plaintiff's ovarian cancer, but did not award damages in that case. There are currently hundreds of similar cases pending in Missouri and another 200 pending in New Jersey courts.

Johnson and Johnson Ordered to Pay Damages for Wrongful Death

The Shower to Shower brand is no longer owned by Johnson and Johnson and is now owned by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. While Valeant was not named in this case, it remains to be seen if they will be joined in other pending or future cases.

Johnson and Johnson spokeswoman, Carol Goodrich, responded to the verdict by saying, "We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff's family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence."

But according to the American Cancer Society, the science on the issue isn't as clear cut as Johnson and Johnson would like to claim. Cosmetic use of non-asbestos containing talcum, which is what has been used in the US since the 1970s, is generally thought to be safe.

However, it has been suggested that talcum powder used for feminine hygiene, such as in baby powder or the Shower to Shower product, could be linked to ovarian cancer if the particles were to travel through a woman's uterus and fallopian tubes into the ovaries. Studies on this issue have found a range of results, from little correlation at all to an increased risk of cancer. These studies have been criticized for their dependency on a woman's memory of using such a talc based product years after the fact.

In 2010, the Harvard School of Public Health published a report also linking a 'modest positive association' between genital use of talcum powder and endometrial cancer, particularly among post-menopausal women. The study cautions that larger future studies must be done in order to replicate the results and to assess if certain populations are more susceptible to the increased risk.

Case controlled studies on both endometrial and ovarian cancer continue, and both the American Cancer Society and the International Agency on Research on Cancer (which is part of the World Health Organization) classify the perineal, or genital, use of talcum based products, even those without asbestos, as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

Karageorgi, S., Gates, M. A., Hankinson, S. E., & De Vivo, I. (2011, May 1). Perineal use of talcum powder and endometrial cancer risk. Retrieved from NCBI: National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health.
Learn About Cancer: Talcum Power and Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Cancer Society.


Other Articles of Interest:

A Right to Clean Water: Flint's Water Crisis

Cotton Products "Made in China:" Is Your Baby Safe?

Fast Food Fail: Why America Needs to Kick the Habit

Food Transparency: What's All the Hoo-Ha About?


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