After a little more than a full day of deliberations following the 17-day trial in St. Louis, the jury returned about 6:30 p.m. Thursday with a verdict in favor of plaintiff Lois Slemp on all of her claims, including conspiracy, breach of implied warranty and negligence, against J&J, its Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. unit and its talc supplier, co-defendant Imerys Talc America Inc.
Slemp, of Virginia, had alleged she developed ovarian cancer in August 2012 after using J&J’s baby powder and Shower to Shower products on her genital area on a daily basis for 40 years.
The jury found the defendants’ conduct warranted punitive damages and awarded Slemp $66 million from J&J, $39 million from J&J Consumer and $50,000 from Imerys.
The jury also awarded Slemp $5.4 million in compensatory damages and ascribed 99 percent of the fault to the two J&J entities and 1 percent of the fault to Imerys.
Slemp attorney Ted Meadows of Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles PC praised the verdict in a statement Thursday, saying he hopes it pushes J&J to “acknowledge the facts” and help inform the public about the proper use of its products. “Once again we’ve shown that these companies ignored the scientific evidence and continue to deny their responsibilities to the women of America,” Meadows said. “They chose to put profits over people, spending millions in efforts to manipulate scientific and regulatory scrutiny.”
Johnson & Johnson released a statement on Thursday saying it will appeal, arguing that its victory in the immediately preceding talc trial in St. Louis as well as a New Jersey state court judge’s dismissal of two suits in the Garden State show that there is not enough “credible scientific evidence behind plaintiffs’ allegations.” “We deeply sympathize with the women and families impacted by ovarian cancer,” the company added. “We are preparing for additional trials this year and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.”
Slemp attorney Allen Smith of The Smith Law Firm had urged the jury during his closing argument Wednesday to punish J&J for its “reprehensible” conduct, arguing that the defendants had to be held responsible not just for failing to warn consumers about the link between between talc and ovarian cancer, but for pressuring regulators like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to keep the public in the dark.
Smith had said that J&J is a $70 billion company, and noted that one-quarter of 1 percent of that value would be $175 million before asking the jury to award punitive damages large enough for the company to feel them.
Slemp’s trial, presided over by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison, was the fifth such trial over the alleged link between J&J’s talcum powder products and ovarian cancer to head to be completed in the city. The company had won the most recent trial in the talc litigation, but was hit with verdicts totaling over $200 million in the first several cases about the talc-ovarian cancer link to go to trial in St. Louis.
The first St. Louis talc trial centered on the ovarian cancer death of Jacqueline Fox. In February 2016, jurors awarded Fox’s estate $72 million. In the second trial, plaintiff Gloria Ristesund was awarded $55 million in May 2016. Plaintiff Deborah Giannecchini was awarded $70 million in October. Imerys was found liable only in the Giannecchini trial.
In March, however, J&J broke its losing streak convincing a St. Louis jury that plaintiff Nora Daniels’ ovarian cancer was not connected to her daily use of talcum powder over several decades.
Further St. Louis talc trials are set for June and July. The first California trial is set for July.
Slemp is represented by Allen R. Smith Jr. of The Smith Law Firm and Ted Meadows, Danielle Mason and David Dearing of Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles PC.
J&J is represented by Orlando Richmond of Butler Snow LLP and Paul Schmidt and Phyllis Jones of Covington & Burling LLP. Imerys is represented by Jane E. Bockus of Dykema Cox Smith and Kenneth Ferguson of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani LLP.
The case is Lois Slemp v. Johnson & Johnson et al., case number 1422-CC09326-01, in the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri.
For more coverage of this trial, visit Courtroom View Network.