In what is certain to be a landmark decision, a Missouri jury has awarded the son of an African-American woman, and the woman’s estate, a total of $72 million in a wrongful death lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson. Of the $72 million in damages, $10 million are compensatory damages going to the son and $62 million in punitive damages to the estate. The successful plaintiff’s lead attorney, Jim Onder said after the verdict that $31 million of the compensation will go to the Missouri Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund.
Ms. Fox’s attorneys claimed that an internal memorandum proved that the company knew many years ago of the link between the use of its baby powder and shower products to ovarian cancer in women and did nothing to warn consumers. After the verdict, one of the jurors, Jerome Kendrick, is quoted in the St. Louis Post Dispatch as saying “They tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics. They could have at least put a warning label on the box but they didn’t. They did nothing.” In addition, the Associated Press reports that a consultant to Johnson and Johnson wrote a memo to the company equating the risks of using their baby and body powders with the risks of getting cancer from smoking cigarettes stating “to ignore such risks would be denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary”. According to the company memo, the Johnson and Johnson worried about declining sales as more and more people become aware of the health risk of the product implying that a warning label would accelerate the sales decline. The memo also that the company deliberately targeted Hispanics and African Americans in their marketing strategies.
The plaintiff had been a long-term user of Johnson and Johnson’s Baby powder and Shower to Shower body powder for feminine hygiene, having used the product regularly for 35 years when she died three years ago. Her son is quoted as saying to the AP that his mother’s use of the products “became second nature, like brushing your teeth.”
In the wake of the guilty verdict against Johnson and Johnson, the company could now face an avalanche of lawsuits related to its talcum-based baby and body powder products. Before the verdict, approximately 1200 lawsuits have been filed.
Thanks to: The Washington Post