Cancer Patients File Suit Over Talcum Powder Risks
Tens of thousands of cancer patients have filed a talcum powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, accusing the company of concealing the risks of talcum powder. In trials held across the country, ovarian cancer and mesothelioma patients have been awarded billions of dollars.
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Johnson & Johnson’s popular line of baby powder products, many of which are made using the mineral talc, bear no warning about ovarian cancer. For tens of thousands of women and families, that’s a major problem. In product liability lawsuits filed across the country, cancer patients and their loved ones accuse Johnson & Johnson of concealing a link between regular talcum powder usage and ovarian cancer.
Baby Powder Lawsuits Win Billions In Courts Across Country
Prominent medical researchers have been warning of the risk for decades. In dozens of studies, epidemiologists, scientists who investigate the patterns and causes of diseases, from around the globe have found substantial evidence that women who use talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product are significantly more likely to develop ovarian cancer. While estimates of the increased risk vary, from around 30% to 300%, a growing and substantial body of evidence now links the world’s softest mineral to cancer.
However, Johnson & Johnson has never acknowledged these studies. Instead, for decades, the company has continuously maintained that talc-based body powders are safe and gentle, even when used for feminine hygiene. But recent court verdicts may force the company to change its public position in the coming years.
Over the last five years, more than six state court juries have held Johnson & Johnson accountable for failing to warn consumers of talcum powder risks. In many of these cases, ovarian cancer patients, survivors and families have been awarded millions of dollars in compensation.
First Damages Verdict Results In $72 Million Award
The first successful verdict came in 2013, when a Sioux Falls, South Dakota jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for failing to warn an ovarian cancer patient, Deane Berg, about the link between baby powder and ovarian cancer. Berg, who has since become a champion for public health, paved the road for thousands of other women, winning the first verdict against Johnson & Johnson. But in a strange twist, the jury in Berg’s case, despite finding Johnson & Johnson liable, chose not to award Berg any damages.
A more favorable verdict would come in February 2016, when a jury in St. Louis awarded the estate of a deceased ovarian cancer patient $72 million in damages, finding that Johnson & Johnson had hid the truth from consumers. The plaintiff, who died during the prosecution of her case, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. Eventually, she came to blame the condition on her 35-years of using Johnson & Johnson’s two leading talcum powder products, Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower.
After three weeks of trial, the St. Louis jury concluded that Johnson & Johnson had failed to warn consumers of the risk and actively conspired to conceal the results of medical research from the public. In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one juror, Jerome Kendrick, pulled no punches, saying, “[Johnson & Johnson] tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics. They could have at least put a warning on the box but they didn’t. They did nothing.”
Second St. Louis Jury Awards $55 Million
Only three months later, a second St. Louis jury came to a similar conclusion, awarding a long-time talcum powder user and ovarian cancer patient nearly $55 million in financial compensation. This second plaintiff alleged in court that she had been forced to undergo a hysterectomy due to her disease.
Hailing from South Dakota, the 62-year-old plaintiff accused Johnson & Johnson of ignoring and concealing decades of medical research. In court documents, the plaintiff claimed that Johnson & Johnson had orchestrated a massive public misinformation campaign, going so far as to hire a roster of scientists to publish research results with the express intention of refuting the demonstrated association between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
A Missouri state court jury affirmed the plaintiff’s allegations, finding in its verdict that Johnson & Johnson had failed to warn consumers about the full slate of risks posed by talcum powder. The plaintiff was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages, along with $50 million in punitive damages, which are designed to punish defendants for particularly outrageous conduct.
Third Missouri State Court Jury Orders J&J To Pay $110 Million
Yet another successful jury verdict would come on May 4, 2017, when a third St. Louis jury awarded over $110 million in damages to a 62-year-old woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. At trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys claimed that their client had used talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product for more than 40 years. The lawyers marshaled over four decades of medical research that, in the aggregate, suggests that talc, a naturally-occurring mineral, substantially increases the risk for ovarian cancer.
In its verdict, the Missouri state court jury agreed with the plaintiff, finding that talc had played a substantial role in causing the plaintiff’s disease. The jury awarded the plaintiff $110 million, including over $105 million in punitive damages. In determining liability, the jury held that 99% of the responsibility should be attributed to Johnson & Johnson.
While the remaining 1% of liability fell on Imerys Talc, Johnson & Johnson’s primary talc supplier. This was the first trial in which Imerys Talc was held accountable for a plaintiff’s ovarian cancer-related injuries. The talc mining firm had been absolved of liability in previous trials.
California Jury Awards Astonishing $417 Million In Compensation
In the first verdict rendered outside of Missouri, a federal court jury in Los Angeles on August 21, 2017, ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million to a 63-year-old plaintiff who accused the company of hiding talcum powder risks from consumers.
In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that Johnson & Johnson was aware of the alleged risk of cancer associated with talc-based body powders, but concealed this information from the public. The plaintiff, according to the BBC, says she started using Johnson & Johnson-made baby powders at the age of 11. Tragically, attorneys say her ovarian cancer diagnosis is terminal.
Plaintiff’s attorneys argued that, in light of current medical research, Johnson & Johnson was aware of talc’s alleged potential to cause cancer. In court documents, the plaintiff claimed that, if the company had placed a cancer warning on its products, she would have stopped using them. Johnson & Johnson argued unsuccessfully that the medical community’s findings have been inconsistent.
Ultimately, the California federal jury was convinced by the plaintiff’s arguments, awarding her a total of $417 million, including $347 million in punitive damages.
Mesothelioma & Asbestos Exposure Lawsuits
In recent months, a new theory of liability has emerged against Johnson & Johnson. During the course of litigation, plaintiffs’ attorneys have uncovered troubling evidence that the company’s talcum powders may have, at points in the past, been contaminated with asbestos. Some plaintiffs say the threat is ongoing, accusing Johnson & Johnson of using talc supplies that continue to be contaminated with asbestos.
Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral, is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a vicious form of cancer that attacks the tissue lining of organs. Asbestos’ severe risks have been well-understood since the 1970s, when manufacturers around the globe stopped using the mineral in industrial applications, in an attempt to decrease the risk of cancer to employees and consumers.
Unfortunately, talc and asbestos are often found together in natural deposits, and many talc supplies are contaminated with asbestos. In light of the risks of asbestos, most talcum powder manufacturers have moved away from the mineral, switching to corn starch, a safer alternative to talc that has never been associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Johnson & Johnson is one of the only holdouts; the company continues to rely on talc for many of its most popular baby powder products. But in a slew of new product liability lawsuits, plaintiffs allege that Johnson & Johnson’s supply of talc has never been free of asbestos. Recent months have seen a wave of mesothelioma patients file lawsuits against the company, arguing that Johnson & Johnson hid the risks of asbestos, just as the company is alleged to have hid the risks of ovarian cancer.
Talc-Asbestos Verdicts Hold J&J Accountable For Mesothelioma Risk
This new theory of liability has already been tested in several trials, with favorable results for plaintiffs.
In April 2018, a jury in New Jersey concluded that, for years, Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc had known that their talcum powders contained trace amounts of asbestos, but hid this fact from consumers. In the case, an investment banker who developed mesothelioma after using talc-based body powders for decades was awarded $117 million in damages, including $80 million in punitive damages.
Only one month later, a California jury awarded $25.75 million in compensation to a mesothelioma patient who blamed her cancer on decades of exposure to Johnson’s Baby Powder. An avid bowler, the plaintiff told jurors that she had powdered her hands and shoes with Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based body powders for years. Citing internal corporate memorandums, plaintiff argued that high-level company executives had known about the asbestos contamination for decades, but failed to warn the public.
Nearly $5 Billion Awarded In Asbestos-Ovarian Cancer Trial
The largest verdict, however, was rendered on Thursday, July 12, 2018, when a St. Louis jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay 22 plaintiffs nearly $4.7 billion in compensation, the New York Times reports. Imerys Talc settled its share of the claims prior to trial.
In their lawsuit, the 22 women, all of whom had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, not mesothelioma, argued that Johnson & Johnson had concealed the asbestos content of its talc products from consumers. This was the first trial to draw an explicit link between the alleged asbestos content of Johnson & Johnson’s talc supply and ovarian cancer.