So far, five talcum powder/ovarian cancer cases have gone to trial in St. Louis, Missouri, resulting in four verdicts for plaintiffs and one verdict for the defendants. The most recent case, Lois Slemp v. Johnson and Johnson, returned a verdict in favor of Mrs. Slemp on May 4, 2017 in the amount of $110 million, the largest such verdict to date.
Mrs. Slemp, a 62 year old resident of Wise, Virginia, reportedly used Johnson & Johnson products, including baby powder and Shower to Shower, for more than 40 years before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August, 2012. Her cancer was initially treated with surgery and 7 months of chemotherapy. Her cancer returned in 2017, and spread to her liver, requiring more chemotherapy.
Mrs. Slemp, a retired nurse’s assistant and mother of two grown sons, testified by audio deposition because she was too ill to attend trial. Her deposition was presented on the 14th day of trial as her attorneys wrapped up her case in chief. During her deposition, she testified that she would not have used talcum powder products if there had been a cancer warning on the packages.
After 10 hours of deliberation, at the end of a 17 day trial, the jury awarded Mrs. Slemp $110 million in damages, consisting of $5.4 million in actual damages and $105 million in punitive damages. The jury found Johnson & Johnson to be 99% at fault, while the company that supplied Johnson & Johnson with its talc was found to be 1% at fault.
Unlike prior talcum powder plaintiffs whose cases were tried in St. Louis, Mrs. Slemp alleged that asbestos, not just talcum powder, was found in her ovarian tissues, and that both substances contributed to the development of her cancer, but the jury did not seem to have relied on the evidence of asbestos in reaching its verdict.
Juror Nancy Kinnan stated after the trial that Johnson & Johnson withheld information vital to women such as herself, and that the science was increasingly pointing toward as talc as a cancer risk. She also indicated that the jury’s award of punitive damages was derived from a formula based on the number of years since IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) had classified talc as a possible human carcinogen in 2006. Juror Jeremy King reportedly described the Johnson & Johnson corporate documents as “mind blowing.”
The plaintiff’s verdict in this case follows a defense verdict in March, 2017. Johnson & Johnson has indicated that it intends to appeal all of the talcum powder verdicts in favor of plaintiffs.