Birmingham woman's family awarded $72M for cancer death linked to talcum powder

Published: Feb. 23, 2016 at 8:28 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2016 at 10:41 PM CST
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Jackie Fox and her son Marvin Salter. Source: Family photo
Jackie Fox and her son Marvin Salter. Source: Family photo

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Missouri state jury awarded a Birmingham woman's family $72 million in damages from Johnson & Johnson after finding the company liable for injuries from her decades-long use of talc-based products such as Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.

Tarrant resident Jacqueline Fox died of ovarian cancer at age 61 in October 2015. She had used the talc-based products for more than 35 years. She was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.

While she died months before the trial began, her son said she insisted they pursue the case.

"My mother started this fight," her son Marvin Salter said. "One of the things she wanted to do with this and the reason she started this fight is so that the word got out as far as the relationship between ovarian cancer and talc. I knew how important this was for her."

The St. Louis jury deliberated four hours before reaching a verdict late last night to end a three-week trial.

The jury found Johnson & Johnson guilty of negligence, conspiracy and fraud.

"It started really back in the 1970s when the company started getting notice that their talc products were causing ovarian cancer," Fox's attorney Jere Beasley said.

"Their knowledge became more expansive and more inclusive in that they kept it in-house, misleading the public, misleading federal regulatory bodies and anybody that would listen to them, telling them how safe talc was when they knew internally that they had a very serious problem," Beasley said.

Johnson & Johnson provided a statement on the verdict through spokeswoman Carol Goodrich.

"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."

Fox's family was awarded $10 million in actual damages and another $62 million in punitive damages.

Beasley said this was the first case by a jury to award damages for the claims about talc-based products.

A federal jury in a 2013 South Dakota trial found the company's cosmetic talc products played a factor in plaintiff Deane Berg developing ovarian cancer, but no damages were awarded.

The lawyers in the Fox case contend studies show that women who use talc-containing products for feminine hygiene have a one in 50 chance of developing ovarian cancer.

During the trial, testimony was introduced by a plaintiff expert that claimed 45,000 women have died of ovarian cancer that could be attributed to talcum powder use.

Johnson & Johnson's corporate website states the company's position on the use of talc and provides links to several scientific studies that support the products safety.

"Our confidence in using talc is based on a long history of safe use and more than 30 years of research by independent researchers, scientific review boards and global regulatory authorities. Various agencies and governmental bodies have examined whether talc is a carcinogen, and none have concluded that it is. Few ingredients have demonstrated the same performance, mildness and safety profile as cosmetic talc," the company site states.

While Johnson's Baby Powder is one of the company's oldest products and has been sold for more than 100 years, concerns about cosmetic talc products were first raised in studies in the 1970s.

The research has been mixed and controversial.

The American Cancer Society acknowledges this on its website.

"Many studies in women have looked at the possible link between talcum powder and cancer of the ovary. Findings have been mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase," the ACS says online.

ACS concludes, "for any individual woman, if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to be very small. Still, talc is widely used in many products, so it is important to determine if the increased risk is real. Research in this area continues."

Beasley said his firm, Beasley Allen of Montgomery, and other law firms have reviewed thousands of potential claims and expect many more lawsuits to follow the Fox case.

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