ST. LOUIS (AP) — Twice in the past three months, juries have awarded tens millions of dollars to ovarian cancer victims who blamed Johnson & Johnson talcum powder for their illness — among the first verdicts in a gathering courtroom assault by law firms that are aggressively recruiting clients through TV ads and the Internet.
While the link between ovarian cancer and talc is a matter of scientific dispute, a St. Louis jury Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $55 million to a South Dakota survivor of the disease. In February, another St. Louis jury awarded $72 million to relatives of an Alabama woman who died of ovarian cancer.
They are among several hundred lawsuits claiming that regularly applying products like Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower to the genitals can cause the often-lethal cancer. Both cases were handled by the Onder Law Firm, based in suburban St. Louis, one of the firms with ads running nationwide that urge cancer victims to come forward.
Attorney Jim Onder said Johnson & Johnson’s marketing targeted overweight women, blacks and Hispanics, “knowing that those groups were most at-risk for talc-related ovarian cancer,” he said. “It’s horrible.”
Onder said researchers began connecting talcum powder to ovarian cancer in the 1970s. Some case studies have indicated that women who regularly use talc on their genital area face up to a 40 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
But other studies have found no definitive link, the company said.
“Unfortunately, the jury’s decision goes against 30 years of studies by medical experts around the world that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc,” Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement.