In July, a St. Louis jury awarded $4.69 billion to 22 women who alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products, used for feminine hygiene purposes, caused their ovarian cancer. The damage award comprises $550 million in compensation and $4.14 billion in punitive damages. Punitive damages are only available in personal injury cases where a defendant’s conduct has been egregious. The plaintiffs alleged that J&J had covered up evidence of problems with its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talcum powder for more than 40 years and continued to market an unsafe product without warning the public. Six of the plaintiffs in the case died from their cancer.
Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the verdict and points to a record of success on appeal in such cases: "Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed."
However, beyond the startling damage award, the case is important for pending litigation; according to CNN, it was one of the first times plaintiffs had argued successfully that J&J’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talcum powder products contained asbestos, a well-known cancer-causing agent, which is often mined near talc, and that the victim’s ovarian cancer cells contained asbestos as well as talc particles. In April, a New Jersey couple who claimed inhaling J&J powder led to the husband’s mesothelioma were awarded $117 million.
As reported by CNN, “There are thousands of [talcum powder] cases currently making their way through court systems all around the country.” These cases include:
The scientific proof of causation is still up for debate. Concerns about the products began around 1971, when studies reported talc particles embedded in ovarian and cervical tumor tissue. Subsequently, as CNN reports, “some studies have shown that there is an elevated risk in women who use talc in their genital area for a long period of time. Other studies have not shown a connection.”
In 2006, the International Agency for Research in Cancer, a bureau of the World Health Organization, classified the use of talc in the genital area as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." The National Toxicology Program of the Department of Health and Human Services does not list talc among the 248 "agents, substances, mixtures, and exposure circumstances that are known or reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans," because it “has not fully reviewed talc as a possible carcinogen.”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued that J&J talc products should be pulled from the market or at least carry a warning label, but the company insists no warning label is necessary, because their "products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer."
If you have used a talcum powder product, especially for feminine hygiene purposes, and have developed ovarian cancer, the mass tort attorneys at Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban are prepared to help. Call us at (888) 351-1038 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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