A Missouri state jury recently ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in actual and punitive damages to the family of a woman who alleged that she had contracted ovarian cancer as a result of her use of the company’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talcum powder products. She had used the products for more than thirty-five years. Her claims were premised on arguments that Johnson & Johnson was aware of the carcinogenic risks associated with the powders, but it hid those risks and deceived both regulators and users of the powders with respect to their safety. Experts expect the jury award will be reduced if Johnson & Johnson decides to appeal it. Nonetheless, this result shows the potential for significant financial recovery when an injury or illness has been occasioned by product liability.
The decision and award were premised on documents which suggested to the jury that the company had been attempting to hide something. The actual causative connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer remains inconclusive. Some researchers believe that talc particles are able to migrate to a woman’s ovaries and cause inflammation that prefaces cancer. Partly out of concern for this risk, the American Cancer Society in 1999 recommended that women should use corn starch rather than talc products as body powders. Many talcum powder manufacturers followed this recommendation and shifted away from talc in the early 2000’s.
This jury decision and award set a strong consumer protection standard for individuals who believe that their illnesses or injuries were caused by inherently dangerous or defective products. As the jury’s rationale for its decision shows, a company’s withholding of information about the potential risksthat are associated with a product can be a sufficient basis for imposing liability on that company. Companies are deemed to have better access to relevant information than consumers, and as a result they are charged with being as forthright with that information as possible.
Product liability laws and standards have been enacted end enforced to protect all consumers and to provide appropriate compensation when consumers are injured.
Wilson Kehoe Winingham is experienced in representing individuals who have been the victim of dangerous products. If you believe that you have suffered injuries or illnesses that were caused by a defective product, contact our experienced Indianapolis product liability lawyers.