Why Johnson & Johnson Faces Talc Powder Lawsuits

Why Johnson & Johnson Faces Talc Powder Lawsuits 2017-10-05T13:30:08+00:00

In over 4,000 lawsuits, cancer patients and surviving loved ones accuse Johnson & Johnson of concealing a link between talc and ovarian cancer.

  • Thousands of talcum powder lawsuits filed.
  • Ovarian cancer patients awarded $717 million in compensation.
  • Many women may still be able to file suit.

Contact our experienced product liability attorneys to learn more about your legal options.

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Talcum powder is widely used in cosmetics and personal care. The best-known example is likely Johnson’s Baby Powder, a product long-established as a household name.

Though Johnson & Johnson’s talc products were originally designed to treat diaper rash in babies, the manufacturer heavily markets them to women for feminine hygiene, assuring female consumers that baby and body powders are safe for use “all over the body.” But according to over 4,000 recent talc powder lawsuits, J&J’s claims of safety clash with extensive medical research, which suggests that talc exposure to the female genital area could significantly increase ovarian cancer risk.

J&J Accused Of Concealing Baby Powder Evidence

Over the last 45 years, evidence has been mounting. Numerous studies have found that women who use baby powder as a feminine hygiene product are more likely to develop this debilitating disease, with estimates of increased risk ranging from about 30% to over 300%.

Cancer Patient In Hospital Bed

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In the face of this growing body of research, Johnson & Johnson has maintained utter denial. The company has never released a warning about the potential risks of its Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower To Shower products. Likewise, warnings are conspicuously absent from the packaging for these body powders.

Now, thousands of ovarian cancer patients, along with their families and loved ones, say that apparent lack of warning is unconscionable. Four state court juries have already agreed. In a series of staggering verdicts, juries in Missouri and California have decided that Johnson & Johnson should be held accountable for hiding decades of medical evidence from the public. Women have already been awarded nearly $750 million in compensation.

With the litigation picking up speed, legal experts are urging ovarian cancer patients to contact an experienced attorney now. Thousands of other women may be eligible to pursue compensation.

First Of Many Talc Powder Lawsuits – Deane’s Story

The first talcum powder lawsuit was filed in 2009 by Deane Berg, a physician’s assistant from South Dakota.

Back in 2006, Berg underwent an ultrasound after experiencing irregular menstrual bleeding. The test revealed that one of her ovaries was hemorrhaging, requiring urgent removal. Tragically, the worst for Berg was still to come – an ovarian biopsy later discovered that she was suffering from stage 3 ovarian cancer. Because the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes, her doctors believed she wouldn’t survive for longer than 5 more years.

A Hygiene Product Responsible For Cancer?

After her cancer diagnosis, Berg had to undergo a complete hysterectomy, the New York Times reports, enduring months of discomfort, pain and disability, both from the disease and a grueling chemotherapy regimen. Today, she describes the period as a “living hell.” All the while, she struggled to understand what could have possibily caused her to develop ovarian cancer. As far as she knew, she possessed none of the typical risk factors. She had no family history of ovarian, breast, or uterine cancer. She wasn’t a smoker, either. She’d always maintained a healthy weight and, as the mother of two healthy daughters, had no fertility issues (difficulties with pregnancy and childbirth are associated with higher ovarian cancer risk).

Finally, in an informational leaflet from her doctor, Berg hit upon an unexpected risk factor, one she unwittingly exposed herself to for years – baby powder. Ever since she was 18 years old, Berg had applied talcum powder, namely Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower To Shower, to her perineum every day for personal hygiene. To Berg, along with countless other women the world over, this daily routine seemed perfectly normal and safe. As she describes it, using baby powder was “just like brushing my teeth.” Decades later, she was shocked and horrified to discover that such a simple, common application for a ubiquitous hygiene product may actually cause a deadly cancer.

No Talc Cancer Warnings For The Public

As Berg searched online for more information about talc powder and its association with ovarian cancer, it became clear that she was far from the only one left in the dark about the potential risks of talc in feminine hygiene. Her shock soon turned to outrage. Apart from studies and discussions published in medical journals, which seemed to have “barely registered with the general public,” there were virtually no warnings about the potential risks of using talc powder. In fact, there was nothing out there to alert women to what she considers a serious threat to health and well-being.

Berg’s 2013 Trial – J&J Found “Liable”

Thankfully, after about a year of intensive treatment, Berg’s cancer went into remission, and she felt strong enough to take legal action. In December 2009, she filed suit against Johnson & Johnson, as well the company’s talc suppliers. It was the first lawsuit that sought to hold Johnson & Johnson responsible for failing to add warnings about ovarian cancer on talcum powder products.

Johnson & Johnson put up a fight, trying on multiple occassions to have Berg’s suit thrown out of court. Thankfully, the company’s attempts were unsuccessful. Berg’s case finally went to trial in 2013. In a federal court in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Berg’s hometown, she and her attorneys laid out the evidence, relying on independent medical experts who explained more than 40 years of research on the risks of talcum powder to the jurors. Those jurors were convinced, but returned a head-scratching verdict. As Fair Warning describes, the federal jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for concealing the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, but didn’t award Berg any damages.

South Dakota is extremely conservative and juries in the state aren’t friendly to plaintiffs. That’s why product liability attorneys weren’t disappointed by the jurors’ decision. They were encouraged, since the jury had seen fit to deem Johnson & Johnson negligent. Berg’s case sparked a wave of litigation, as hundreds of ovarian cancer patients filed their own lawsuits against the multinational consumer product company.

Thousands Of Cancer Patients File Talc Lawsuits

To date, more than 4,000 women have decided to take legal action, seeking compensation for their own cases of ovarian cancer. Most of their complaints have been filed in New Jersey, where Johnson & Johnson is headquartered, or a state court in St. Louis, Missouri.

The court in Missouri has already seen six talcum powder lawsuits go to trial. In five cases, Missouri juries have found Johnson & Johnson liable for failing to warn of talcum powder’s link to ovarian cancer. Unlike the South Dakota jury in Deane Berg’s case, the jurors in Missouri have said in no uncertain terms that ovarian cancer patients deserve compensation. A similar conclusion was reached by jurors in California, where a 63-year-old woman with stage 3 ovarian cancer recently secured over $400 million in damages. Johnson & Johnson has already been ordered to pay $717 million in damages to cancer patients and their families.

Negligence & Product Liability

Product manufacturers have a duty to exercise a reasonable level of care in bringing their products to consumers. Significant caution should be taken at every step, from product design and manufacturing to testing, distribution, and marketing. Above all, companies should strive to ensure customer safety. This is a legal and ethical duty, one that can’t be abandoned.

Negligence is what happens when a person or corporation fails to honor their duty to the safety of others. Most product liability lawsuits are based on some theory of negligence, arguing that a manufacturer failed use sufficient care in designing, producing or marketing a product.

Johnson & Johnson Faces Allegations Of Negligence

This concept lies at the heart of the talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. In their complaints, women accuse the company of negligence in multiple aspects of producing their famous baby and body powders.

As just one example, cancer patients say that J&J was negligent in manufacturing Johnson’s Baby Powder, choosing to employ talc as the main ingredient, despite considerable medical research suggesting that the compound poses ovarian cancer risks. More to the point, plaintiffs argue, a viable, cost-effective, and safe alternative has always been readily available – cornstarch.

Talc powder plaintiffs also accuse J&J of being negligent by failing to perform safety studies, which could have helped determine how safe their products are. This is particularly important since ovarian cancer, a disease known for its aggressive and lethal nature, could be a risk.

Last, and perhaps most important, the talc plaintiffs bring up the lack of cancer warnings issued by Johnson & Johnson. At the very least, they point out, J&J could have advised female consumers against using the powders on the genital area. Instead, the company chose to depict the products as “safe for all uses.” Plaintiffs say that assertion couldn’t be further from the truth.

Strict Liability

Negligence isn’t the only legal theory at work in talcum powder lawsuits. According to the theory of strict liability, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that consumers will not be harmed by their products – no ifs, ands or buts. Under this theory, results are all that matters. If a customer gets injured by a product, it doesn’t matter how many precautions a manufacturer took to try and prevent injury. The manufacturer can still be held liable if an injury can be convincingly linked to an intended or foreseeable use of the product.

Will There Be A Talcum Powder Class Action Suit?

That’s unlikely. Most attorneys agree that individual lawsuits are more appropriate when people have suffered serious injuries due to a manufacturer’s misconduct. In a class action, on the other hand, a handful of select plaintiffs serve to represent a much wider “class” of individuals, all of whom were harmed in the same way. That approach doesn’t seem right for talcum powder lawsuits, since each patient will have been affected in very different ways.

It’s true that at least two class action lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson over its talcum powders. Both of these lawsuits were dismissed before trial, because the class representatives never actually developed ovarian cancer. To successfully argue for damages in a product liability lawsuit, plaintiffs have to demonstrate that they have suffered actual demonstrable injuries.

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