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Jury Awards $72 Million in Talc Powder Lawsuit

Photograph by Twenty20

A Missouri state jury awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who claimed Johnson & Johnson products caused her ovarian cancer. Jacqueline Fox of Alabama used J&J's talc products consistently over a span of decades, according to her family. Fox died of ovarian cancer in October last year at age 62, about two years after being diagnosed and before her case came to trial.

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Talc is a naturally occurring mineral made up of magnesium, silicon, oxygen and hydrogen, and is widely used in a variety of personal care and cosmetic products to absorb moisture and prevent caking.

During the three-week trial, experts linked talc to ovarian cancer, and Fox's attorneys also produced an internal company memo from 1997 as evidence in which a medical consultant said that the link between talc and ovarian cancer was undeniable. The jury deliberated for only five hours before coming back with a verdict against the company, finding it guilty of negligence, conspiracy and fraud.

According to Fox's family, she used Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products as part of her feminine hygiene routine for more than 35 years.

Some medical professionals are not as confident about the link, as the cause of ovarian cancer is unknown and it's a complex ailment that can have plenty of contributing factors. But other experts say that when used in the genital area, it can enter the pelvic cavity and has been found in ovarian tissue of the women who have used talc products.

Jere Beasley, an attorney for the family, said in a telephone press conference they "were able to prove statistically that 1,500 women have died every year from the association of talc and ovarian cancer."

Fox's son, Marvin Salter, said in a TV interview that the suit was not about the money, but about warning other women about the potential danger.

Fox's case is not the first to go to trial, but it is the first to win monetary damages, and is part of a bigger lawsuit brought by more than 50 women, which is why the trial took place in Missouri. According to the Associated Press, there are more than 1,200 lawsuits in multiple states against the company related to its products that contain talc. In 2014, a South Dakota jury found the company's products played a role in the death of a 49-year-old woman who also developed ovarian cancer.

Johnson & Johnson is likely to appeal the verdict, experts say, and a company spokeswoman said they're deciding their next legal move. The company released a statement that said: "We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff's family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence."

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