In 2012, Deborah Giannecchini was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 59. With a death toll of about 22,000 women each year, ovarian cancer is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and is often mistaken for other disorders because of its vague symptoms.
But what makes Ms. Giannecchini’s diagnosis different than most women, is that a jury found that her ovarian cancer was caused by talcum powder products made by Johnson & Johnson. And as a result, the jury awarded her $70 million.
A Multimillion Dollar Cancer Diagnosis
After her ovarian cancer diagnosis, Giannecchini sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging that nearly 40 years of daily use of their talc-based Shower-to-Shower Body Powder caused her to develop ovarian cancer. Furthermore, Giannecchini’s talcum powder lawsuit alleged that the manufacturer was negligent in marketing a dangerous product.
The jury deliberated for around three hours before returning with their verdict in favor of Ms. Giannecchini. A little more than $2.5 million of that was awarded as compensatory damages, while the bulk of the verdict ($67.5 million) were awarded as punitive damages to penalize Johnson & Johnson for their negligence and misconduct.
A Grim Prognosis
For Giannecchini, who faces the grim reality that she has an 80% chance of dying within the next two years despite aggressive treatment, it was a hard-fought battle. She has said that she feels like despite the hardships, her lawsuit “accomplished something,” and she hopes that Johnson & Johnson will now add warning labels to its products in an effort to protect other women from an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Although Ms. Giannecchini’s verdict is the third of several large talcum powder verdicts granted against Johnson & Johnson for ovarian cancer, the manufacturer continues to stand by their product. Carol Goodrich, spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, stated on behalf of the company, “We deeply sympathize with the women and families affected by ovarian cancer.” Nonetheless, Goodrich continued, “We will appeal…because we are guided by science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.”
Does J&J Put Profits Over People?
Giannecchini’s lawyers said in a statement that they were “pleased the jury did the right thing,” and that the award “reaffirmed” that Johnson & Johnson should have a warning placed on their products. “It’s time for this company to come clean and put consumer health ahead of profits,” the statement added.
Some have alleged that the consumer products company has marketed its talcum-based products to a specific demographic of women who already face a higher-than-average risk of developing ovarian cancer: women who are overweight, Hispanic, or African American. Giannecchini’s case relied at least in part on medical studies of talc as far back as the 1970s to highlight to the jury that talc is shown to cause a 40% greater risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Jurors Punish J&J For Not Using a Warning Label
While there are medical studies on talc that fall on both sides of the ovarian cancer link, the jurors in the Giannecchini case believed that Johnson & Johnson (along with another defendant, Imerys Talc) were negligent in the marketing of their product as well as in their failure to warn the public about the possible link between their talcum powder-based products and the increased risk of cancer. An internal memo from Johnson & Johnson shows that the company knew about the risks for decades.
One juror, Billie Ray, told the press after the trial, “It seemed like Johnson & Johnson didn’t pay attention. It seemed like they didn’t care.” Giannecchini’s attorneys believe that Johnson & Johnson avoided warning labels despite their knowledge of risk, and instead “developed a defense strategy to prevent government regulation of its products.”
Thousands of Talc Lawsuits Against J&J
Giannecchini’s suit represents the third large verdict levied against Johnson & Johnson, following awards of $55 million, and $72 million. While the company plans to appeal, there are still more than 5,500 lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson related to their Shower-to-Shower Body Powder, Johnson’s Baby Powder, and other talc-based products.
Many hope that Johnson & Johnson decides to stop defending itself and instead offer a reasonable settlement to women who have been harmed by their products. Only time will tell whether Johnson & Johnson ultimately decides to change their strategy toward these claims.
In 2012, Johnson & Johnson agreed to remove two specific ingredients from their product lines by 2015 because they are considered possible carcinogens. Talcum is also considered a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, but the company has yet to remove it. Instead, the company offer a talc-free alternative version of its baby powder that use cornstarch instead of talcum powder.
If you or someone you love was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using Johnson’s Baby Powder, Shower-to-Shower, or other talcum powder products for decades and you have questions about whether you may have a claim against Johnson & Johnson, contact us right away and we will connect you with an attorney.