A California woman has been awarded $70 million in a new verdict rendered against Johnson & Johnson over the company’s talcum powder. This is the third straight talc powder lawsuit in which the company has been found liable in relation to the product’s link to ovarian cancer. All three cases were tried in a Missouri state court.
After three hours of deliberation, the jury returned their judgment, ordering Johnson & Johnson to pay Deborah Giannecchini, a 62-year-old with ovarian cancer, almost $2.5 million in medical expenses and $65 million in punitive damages. A second company, Imerys Talc America, has been ordered to pay Giannecchini $2.5 million in punitive damages. The jury’s decision was announced on October 27, 2016.
Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson say the company intends to appeal the verdict. The manufacturer, one of the world’s largest healthcare corporations, is already appealing two previous judgments, in which ovarian cancer patients were awarded $72 million and $55 million. A representative for Imerys Talc says the company is “disappointed” by the verdict. Imerys had been cleared of liability in the two previous St. Louis talc trials.
In her case, Giannecchini, a Modesto, California resident, said that more than 40 years of repeated talcum powder use led to the development of ovarian cancer.
She began using the product, a common part of feminine hygiene routines, when she was 15 years old.
While “30 years of studies” had found that ovarian cancer and talc were intertwined, Giannecchini claims Johnson & Johnson failed to warn the public. “They knew, and they knew the public was unaware of the risk,” one of Giannecchini’s attorneys, quoted by Bloomberg, argued at trial. Rather than warn consumers, he said, the company “developed a defense strategy to prevent government regulation of its products.”
The jurors, it appears, were convinced by these arguments, voting 9 – 3 in favor of Giannecchini. “It seemed like Johnson & Johnson didn’t pay attention,” one juror told the International Business Times. “It seemed like they didn’t care,” she noted, saying that the company should have placed a warning on talc-based products to inform consumers.
Talc has been a mainstay in the medicine cabinets of millions of American women since the product was first introduced, by Johnson & Johnson, at the turn of the 20th century. Concerns about the powder’s safety were first raised in the 70s, with more evidence linking talc to ovarian cancer to follow.
In a news conference after the verdict, Giannecchini was overwhelmed, Bloomberg reports, saying “I’ve waited for a long time for this. I’ve wanted this so badly.” While happy with the jury’s decision, she said, “there’s not enough money in the world to pay for fighting the cancer.” Even after undergoing surgery, radiotherapy and chemo, Giannecchini’s attorneys say she has an 80% chance of dying within the next two years. “One day at a time,” the woman said, “just stay hopeful.”
While there is no guarantee that other juries will look so favorably on the evidence, this most recent blow to Johnson & Johnson will likely add to the hopes of other ovarian cancer patients.
Around 1,700 lawsuits filed in state and federal courts across the country make allegations similar to those leveled by Giannecchini. Most of the cases await trial dates in St. Louis, although hundreds have also been filed in Los Angeles and New Jersey. Interviewed by the Chicago Tribune, one of Giannecchini’s said that no talks had been held with Johnson & Johnson over a global settlement, which would attempt to compensate every individual plaintiff in one fell swoop.
The next case in St. Louis is scheduled to begin in February 2017.