J&J Loses Third Trial Over Claims Talcum Powder Causes Cancer

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Johnson & Johnson lost a third straight trial over claims its talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer with a St. Louis jury awarding a California woman more than $70 million.

J&J is accused in about 1,700 lawsuits in state and federal court of ignoring studies linking its baby powder and Shower-to-Shower talc products to ovarian cancer and failing to warn customers about the risk. Thursday's verdict follows damages verdicts of $72 million and $55 million against the company this year in the first two talc claims to go to trial in St. Louis. Both are being appealed.

Deborah Giannecchini, 62, used J&J's baby powder for feminine hygiene for more than four decades until her diagnosis with ovarian cancer three years ago, according to her lawyers. She has an 80% chance of dying in the next two years, and has undergone surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, they said.

A J&J unit was ordered to pay $65 million in punitive damages and 90% of about $2.5 million for medical costs and pain and suffering. Co-defendant Imerys Talc America, the supplier of the talc, was hit with $2.5 million in punitive damages. Jurors returned the verdict after deliberating for about three hours.

The company should have provided a warning label on the product to let consumers decide whether to use talc, one juror Billie Ray, 76, of St. Louis, said after the trial. "It seemed like Johnson & Johnson didn't pay attention," she said. "It seemed like they didn't care."

Ms. Giannecchini appeared overwhelmed by the verdict. "I've waited for a long time for this," she said. "I've wanted this so badly."

J&J will appeal, said Carol Goodrich, company spokeswoman. "We are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder," she said in a statement.

Imerys is "disappointed'' with the verdict, said Dan Rene, a company spokesman. Imerys had been cleared in the two prior St. Louis trials, as well as in two claims dismissed in New Jersey, Mr. Rene said in a statement.

"This verdict serves to undermine efforts by the scientific community to determine the true causes of ovarian cancer,'' Mr. Rene said. "The theories relied upon by plaintiffs' experts lacked scientific foundation.''

J&J is facing hundreds of claims in St. Louis state court, which has become a magnet for plaintiffs' product defect claims, as well as about 300 suits in Los Angeles, another 200 in New Jersey and a growing number of federal cases combined before one judge in that state. A New Jersey state court judge last month threw out two talc cases set for trial, finding inadequate scientific support for the claims.

J&J has denied any link to talc use and ovarian cancer.

"Science, research, clinical evidence and decades of studies by medical experts around the world continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc,'' Ms. Goodrich said before the verdict. The New Jersey dismissal decision "highlights the lack of scientific evidence behind plaintiffs' allegations," she said.

J&J was aware of "30 years of studies showing an increased risk of ovarian cancer from the use of talc," Ms. Giannecchini's lawyer, Allen Smith, told jurors in the St. Louis trial. "They knew, and they knew the public was unaware of the risk." Instead of adding warning labels, J&J "developed a defense strategy to prevent government regulation of its products," he said.

"I think the jury heard our message loud and clear," Mr. Smith said after the verdict. "If this doesn't send a message to J&J to add a warning, I don't know what will."

-- Bloomberg News