Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $72M in suit linking talcum powder to ovarian cancer

Jacqueline Fox passed away last fall, but her voice recently came alive in a St. Louis courtroom.

In an audio deposition, the Birmingham, Ala., native who died at 62 recounted 35 years of using Johnson & Johnson products containing talcum powder, from the pharmaceutical giant’s trademark baby powder to its shower-to-shower body powder. Fox had applied them toward feminine hygiene, but she believed they were what ultimately killed her.

More than three years ago, she was diagnosed with an ovarian cancer that proved fatal. Fox then joined more than 1,200 women from across the country suing Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn consumers of the dangers associated with talc, the mineral used in baby powder.

Monday, her case became the first in which monetary compensation was awarded.

A Missouri jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay Fox’s family $72 million in actual and punitive damages. One of Fox’s lead attorneys, Jim Onder, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that $31 million will go to the Missouri Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

The suit’s other defendant, talc producer Imerys Talc America, has not been faulted.

“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial,” Johnson & Johnsonsaid in a statement Tuesday. “We sympathize with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety the cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence.”

Johnson & Johnson is expected to appeal the verdict. The award — which is comprised of $10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in punitive damages —will likely be lessened in appellate courts, Stanford law professor Nora Freeman Engstrom told the Associated Press.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one male juror and nine female jurors voted in Fox’s favor; two men voted against her.

One juror, 50-year-old Jerome Kendrick, told the Post-Dispatch that he was swayed by internal company memos presented at trial.

“They tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics,” he said, adding “They could have at least put a warning label on the box but they didn’t. They did nothing.”

One memo from a company medical consultant likened ignoring the risks associated with “hygenic” talc use and ovarian cancer to denying the link between smoking cigarettes and cancer — in other words, “‘denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary,’” the Associated Press reported.

Another document noted that sales were declining as more people became aware of the health risks, and included strategies for making blacks and Hispanics the highest users of talcum powder, Onder said, as the Post-Dispatch reported.

Fox was African American.

The New Jersey-based company faces many more lawsuits related to talcum products it has made household names.

Marvin Salter, Fox’s son, told the AP that using Johnson & Johnson “became second nature, like brushing your teeth.”

But a routine act eventually became insidious, Fox’s lawyers argued.

A pathologist found that Fox’s ovaries were inflamed from talc, which then turned into cancer.

While studies have associated regular talc use with ovarian cancer for decades, the American Cancer Society notes that there is no definitive research on whether asbestos-free talc — the kind widely used in consumer products — causes ovarian cancer:

New Illinois Law 2016


Here’s a look at some of the new rules for 2016:

New Illinois laws aim to keep teens out of prison system

Law enforcement and crimeA sweeping set of new regulations regarding police body cameras is aimed at addressing recent controversies over use of force and standardizing practices across the state.Police departments would not be required to use the cameras, but now there will be statewide rules for those that do. Chiefly, officers will have to keep their cameras on when conducting law enforcement activities but could turn them off when talking to a confidential informant, or at the request of a victim or witness. Intentionally turning off cameras outside the exceptions could result in a charge of official misconduct.

Recordings generally will not be subject to the state’s open records law, however, unless they contain potential evidence in a use-of-force incident, the discharge of a weapon or a death.

To help pay for the body cameras, the state will charge an extra $5 fee on criminal and traffic offenses that result in a guilty plea or conviction. The money also will bolster an expanded training program that includes topics like use of force. In addition, the law bans the use of choke holds, creates a database of officers who have been fired or resigned because of misconduct and requires an independent investigation of all officer-involved deaths. Also, a special prosecutor can be requested if there is an apparent conflict of interest.


“This isn’t going to have a magical overnight impact, though there will be some immediate effect because your behavior changes when you know that you are being watched and recorded,” said sponsoring Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago. “So I think there will be greater sensitivity to that, and just how you interact with the public in general when being recorded that I think is valuable.”

Additionally, the state agency responsible for developing standards for law enforcement will be tasked with creating a specialized training program to teach police how to interact with those with mental illness to avoid a situation from further escalating.

On another front, it will now be a Class A misdemeanor for pet owners found to have left animals outside in extremely hot or cold weather. Violators could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and fine of up to $2,500. Judges would have discretion to impose lesser sentences.

And man’s best friend may begin to make more frequent appearances in courtrooms under a provision that would allow children and intellectually disabled adults who are victims of sexual abuse to be accompanied on the stand by a service dog for support.

Victims of sexual assault will have longer to pursue charges against their attackers under a measure that would delay the start of the 10-year statute of limitations until after a rape kit is tested. The change is aimed at preventing the accused from running out the clock because of a testing backlog as law enforcement agencies struggle to keep up with fewer resources.

Lawmakers also added powdered caffeine and powdered alcohol to the list of banned substances in Illinois, and they created a new “Silver Alert” system to help law enforcement locate missing adults who have dementia or other cognitive impairments.

Consumer and family laws

Prompted by thousands of complaints alleging neglect or abuse in nursing homes, a new law lets residents of such homes or long-term care facilities to put cameras in their rooms if they pay for them.

Nursing homes would be required to post a sign at main entrances warning that rooms may be under electronic monitoring, and everyone living in a room would have to consent to a camera being installed. If one resident of a shared room wants a camera and the other doesn’t, the resident who wants the camera would be moved to another room.

A “Right to Try” law brought about by through bipartisan negotiations allows terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs and treatments that have gone through the first phase of clinical trials but are not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Supporters say the measure affords patients more control over treatment options and prevents them from having to travel to other countries to seek treatment. Drug companies have said the FDA’s expanded access programs should be improved instead.

Meanwhile, another law attempts to modernize rules regarding parentage to reflect the legalization of gay marriage and the prevalence of unmarried parents.

The changes would remove gender-specific language to ensure that “a person” is presumed to be the legal parent of a child if that person and the mother are married, in a civil union or a “substantially similar relationship” unless a surrogacy contract is in place. If a child is born before the start of a relationship or soon after it ends, the couple are presumed to be legal parents.

The law lets parents voluntarily declare they are a parent of a child, and it provides more leeway for visitation and parental involvement as custody cases work their way through the court system. It also establishes a new set of standards when it comes to genetic testing to determine paternity.

“It’s trying to be very child-centered and acknowledge that children deserve to be psychologically, emotionally and financially supported by their parents while trying to make that work in what is often difficult and contentious adult relationships,” said sponsoring Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park.


High school students will have to take at least one semester of civics to graduate. While the law goes into effect Friday, it’s expected that schools won’t incorporate the requirement until the 2016-17 school year begins in the fall.

Schools also will be required to install carbon monoxide detectors following a 2014 leak at a rural Illinois school that sent more than 180 staff members and students to the hospital.

Meanwhile, student teachers will have to undergo background checks before they are allowed in the classroom, and child care facility employees must now get immunized for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis as well as vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.

Those who were convicted of crimes but later found innocent could qualify for special college scholarships, if lawmakers set aside money for the program.

Additionally, college students over 18 who have mental health issues would be allowed to designate someone who could be alerted about any problems or changes in behavior. The idea was brought about after the suicide of a freshman at Illinois State University. The student’s parents pushed for the bill, arguing that they may have been able to step in if alerted about conversations he had with school counselors.

LGBT laws

Gay rights advocates are celebrating a new law that will ban conversion therapy on minors.

Under the law, mental health providers would be barred from engaging in treatment with the purpose of changing the sexual orientation or gender identification of minors. Psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors caught doing so could be deemed as engaging in unprofessional conduct by state regulators and face disciplinary action such as fines, probation, or temporary or permanent license revocation. Businesses that advertise or offer conversion therapy services in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental illness could face legal action under Illinois consumer fraud laws.

Proponents argued that conversion therapy is a practice widely denounced by mental health organizations that say it can cause severe health risks such as depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. Critics said the bill would restrict youths from seeking help for unwanted same-sex attractions and would interfere with parents’ rights to raise their children as they wish.

“Marriage was a huge, huge social justice achievement for our society, but it’s part of a broader program and that program is a comprehensive inclusion of people of a variety of sexual orientations and identities into the mainstream of life without prejudice, bias or discrimination,” said sponsoring Sen. Biss.

Further, transgender people will now be covered under the state’s hate crimes law to protect them from being targeted because of their gender identification, while lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community centers will be added to the list of facilities protected from hate-based institutional vandalism.