In a landmark personal injury decision, a Missouri jury awarded $72 million in damages to the family of an Alabama woman who died of ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products for years. Jacqueline Fox used the talcum powder for personal hygiene for over 30 years before passing away in October after being diagnosed with cancer several years ago. Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages after being found liable for fraud, conspiracy, and negligence by failing to warn consumers of the link between talc-based products and ovarian cancer, even though the company allegedly knew of such risks for decades. Despite the verdict and massive damages awarded, Johnson & Johnson maintains that the product is safe, citing “decades of scientific evidence” to support its view that talcum powder does not cause cancer.
Although this is the first case to award damages to a plaintiff in an ovarian cancer talcum powder liability case, it is not the first time a plaintiff has won such a case. In 2013, a federal court found for Deanne Berg, ruling that her ovarian cancer was linked to talcum powder and that the company failed to warn her of the risks of using the product. However, Berg was not awarded any damages. Berg’s lawsuit and Fox’s posthumous victory open the door for additional plaintiffs to seek recovery for damages incurred as a result of using unsafe products without adequate warning of the dangers involved. Indeed, hundreds of related lawsuits have emerged, with many more likely on the way.
Negligence in Products Liability
Jurors ultimately decided that Johnson & Johnson was liable for fraud, conspiracy, and negligence. Products liability negligence can occur in several ways:
- Defects in design, where a product is defective before it is even manufactured, typically due to an inherent danger in the way the product is supposed to be used.
- Defects in the manufacturing process, where a product is rendered defective due to a mistake in putting it together (i.e. the product is not supposed to operate that way, but a mistake in building it makes it defective and therefore dangerous).
- Failure to warn consumers of risks associated with using the product, including lack of warning labels, incorrect instructions for use, or lack of safety warnings regarding potential dangers related to using the product.
In this case, the jury determined that Johnson & Johnson was negligent in failing to warn Fox of the risks associated with talcum products, allegedly illustrated in studies dating back to the 1980s and in medical expert testimony. The fraud and conspiracy verdicts resulted from allegations that Johnson & Johnson not only knew of the risks associated with talcum powder, but purposefully hid those risks in an attempt to avoid negatively impacting sales, going as far as deliberately lying to the public and regulatory agencies.
Actual Damages vs. Punitive Damages
The jury awarded $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages to Fox’s family. What is the difference between these types of recovery?
- Actual damages are sums of money awarded to a plaintiff for real expenses and losses incurred as a result of an injury. Actual damages can include past and future medical expenses and lost wages, as well as general damages, including pain and suffering. In this case, Fox undoubtedly had significant medical expenses related to treating her cancer, lost wages due to time off of work for medical care and recovery, as well pain and suffering damages.
- Punitive damages are additional monetary amounts awarded to a plaintiff for the purpose of punishing the defendant and deterring the defendant from engaging in similar behavior in the future. In this case, the punitive damages are intended to prevent Johnson & Johnson from failing to warn consumers of dangers associated with its products by compelling the company to include adequate warning labels.
Questions on Product Liability or Personal Injury?
If you are in Florida and have been injured or become ill after using a product, it is extremely important to contact an experienced lawyers. John Piccin can help you navigate this process. Call John at 352-558-8480 for help recovering the damages you deserve.