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$110 Million Verdict Returned in Talcum Powder Case

May 17, 2017
$110 Million Verdict Returned in Talcum Powder Case

A jury in a St. Louis Circuit Court rendered a $110 million verdict for the plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder products caused her ovarian cancer.

The plaintiff, a 62-year-old Virginia woman had used Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder in her genital area for more than 40 years before her ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2012. The plaintiff was too sick to attend the trial; the cancer had spread to her liver.

More than a thousand women from across the country have filed talcum powder lawsuits in St. Louis. Missouri law permits plaintiffs with no connection to the state to file lawsuits there. More talc trials are scheduled for June and July, and the first California case is set for trial in July. An additional 223 lawsuits are pending in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in New Jersey.

Fourth Large Verdict in a Talc Case

This was the fourth multi-million dollar verdict against Johnson & Johnson since early 2016. In 2016 juries handed down verdicts of $55 million, $70 million, and $72 million in ovarian cancer lawsuits. The lawsuits allege that Johnson & Johnson has known about the ovarian cancer risk since the l970s.

The jury award consisted of punitive damages of $66 million from J&J, $39 million from J&J Consumer and $50,000 from Imerys, the talc supplier. The award also contained $5.4 million in compensatory damages. The jury assigned 99 percent of the fault to J&J and J&J Consumer and one percent to Imerys.

Imerys Talc America supplies talc to J&J. liable for $100,000. Imerys had placed health warnings on the material safety data sheets for talc, but J&J has never put a health warning on its baby powder or Shower to Shower products.

In his closing argument, an attorney for the plaintiff asked the jury to punish J&J for its "reprehensible" conduct. He argued that the defendants should be held responsible not only for failing to warn consumers about the link between talc and ovarian cancer, but for manipulating regulators like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to keep the public in the dark about the cancer risk. "Once again we've shown that these companies ignored the scientific evidence and continue to deny their responsibilities to the women of America," Law360 reports. The attorney asked the jury to award punitive damages large enough for the $70-billion company to feel the sting.

Troubling Talcum Powder Research

Talc, the soft mineral that can be ground into a fine powder, is used in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products. Talc absorbs moisture and odors and prevents caking. People use talcum powder to prevent chafing and generations of women have used talcum powder for feminine hygiene. They apply talcum powder directly to the genital area or sprinkle it on their underwear or sanitary pads. Johnson & Johnson advertising long encouraged this use, promoting the talcum powder as a way for a woman to feel "fresh." One plaintiff said she reasoned that a product for babies had to be safe for adult women to use. Legal documents indicate that many of the plaintiffs used talcum powder daily for decades before their ovarian cancer diagnoses.

But as far back as 1971, researchers found talc particles embedded in ovarian tumors they examined. Later studies confirmed that talc particles could travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes, and into the ovaries. The American Cancer Society explains that talc particles can cause inflammation, which is believed to contribute to the development of tumors. A 2013 study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research found that women who regularly used talcum powder for feminine hygiene product may face a 20 to 30 percent greater risk of ovarian cancer.

In 2006, Imerys placed a cancer warning on the talc it supplies to J&J, but J&J did not put such a warning on its talcum powders. Johnson's Baby Powder carries carry a warning not to let the baby inhale the powder because it may cause respiratory problems, but there is no cancer warning for adult women users.

Condom and surgical glove makers have stopped dusting their products with talc. On December 19, 2016, the FDA published a final rule banning powdered gloves based on the unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury to individuals exposed to powdered gloves (this includes health care professionals and patients).

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is an aggressive form of cancer with a high five-year mortality rate. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 20,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year and about 14,000 women die from the disease. The disease is difficult to diagnose because early symptoms like abdominal and menstrual discomfort are often dismissed as routine matters. And because there is no diagnostic test to detect the disease early, ovarian cancer is often not diagnosed until its later stages when the disease has spread and the patient's prognosis is poor.

Talcum Powder Litigation

Talcum Powder Litigation

Plaintiffs in talcum powder lawsuits allege that since the 1970s, a growing number of studies have pointed to a link between the use of talcum powder in the genital area and an increased risk for ovarian cancer. Recent studies have also suggested that talcum powder could cause mesothelioma (cancer of the tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs).

A large talcum powder litigation is underway in federal court in St. Louis. Three trials took place in 2016 and all three trials ended with jury awards to the plaintiffs, with compensatory and punitive damage awards totaling $55 million, $72 million and $70 million. In addition to the Missouri cases, nearly 100 talcum powder lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson have been centralized in a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, with an additional 224 cases pending in a multicounty litigation established in New Jersey's Atlantic County Superior Court.

Help for Talcum Powder Users Diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer

If you are a talcum powder user who has developed ovarian cancer, you may have valuable legal rights. The experienced attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can provide a case evaluation at no cost or obligation. To reach the firm, fill out the online contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).

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