Johnson & Johnson is facing thousands of lawsuits filed by women who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson’s Baby Powder, Shower to Shower and other talcum powder products.
For many years, talc was the main ingredient in baby powders, body powders and feminine hygiene products due to its absorbent abilities. Within the last few years, concern has arisen over the use of talcum powder in the genital region, particularly in women. Several consumer health, academic and medical authorities have identified a link between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer.
Producers of talcum-based products, particularly Johnson & Johnson, now find themselves facing thousands of lawsuits filed by women who increasingly feel that these manufacturers have deliberately kept consumers in the dark about the risks of talcum use.
In 2018, in a Johnson & Johnson talcum powder trial, a jury awarded a $4.7 billion settlement to 22 women who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson’s Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower products.
Worsening the situation, in December of 2018, news reports emerged showing that J&J knew, not only did its talc products cause cancer, they were sometimes contaminated with asbestos. The company was accused of hiding this fact from regulators and the public. In addition to the thousands of talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits already filed, Johnson & Johnson may be expecting many more lawsuits based on the new information.
What is Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder is a powdered form of talc or magnesium silicate. Talcum powder became popular in the 20th century in personal care products due to its absorbent properties. Until a few years ago, it was included as a primary ingredient in most baby powder and many body-care or feminine hygiene products.
Talc is mined from deposits in the ground, many of which are located close to asbestos deposits. In the 1960s, asbestos was identified as a carcinogen and over the next three decades, was phased out of use in most consumer products. Because of its mining location, some of the earliest talcum powder products may have been contaminated with asbestos until manufacturers developed better and more refined manufacturing processes.
Over the last several decades, talcum-based products have been free of asbestos but women who used them may still have been placed at a risk of ovarian cancer. When used in the genital region, the talc molecule may travel through the vagina and uterus, into the Fallopian tubes and on to the ovaries, where it may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Talc and Ovarian Cancer
Concern over the risk of ovarian cancer in users of talcum powder may have emerged as early as the 1970s when researchers found that 75% of ovarian cancer tumors they examined contained talc. Later, in 1982, a study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed a link between the use of talc and ovarian cancer. This study was followed by several more which showed similar results, and prompting the primary investigator, Dr. Howard Cramer, to warn Johnson & Johnson about his findings. J&J ignored these warnings.
The results kept coming though, and a 2013 analysis of data collected by Harvard University researchers showed a small but definitive link between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer. Some experts have postulated an increase in ovarian cancer risk of up to 30% in women who use talcum powder in the perineal (groin) area. Though other studies have not found the same percentage of increase, many have shown a link. Most recently, studies conducted in 2017 and 2018 have both concluded that there is a small but clear link to an increased risk in ovarian cancer after using talcum powder products in the genital area.
Aside from the ovarian cancer risk, talc is well-known to increase the chance for respiratory ailments due to its drying properties. Talcum powder use may increase the chance for asthma, lung fibrosis, pneumonia, pulmonary talcosis, and respiratory failure. Talc has been replaced by corn starch or arrowroot powder in most baby-care products but it is still used in many cosmetic and other health products.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits
Thousands of women have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, claiming its talcum powder products, Shower-to-Shower Powder and Baby Powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Some of these women had used the products for hygiene purposes for many years.
During discovery, a 1997 memo was introduced which showed that Johnson & Johnson knew of the danger but failed to disclose the threat to the public and continued selling their products anyway, even increasing marketing of the products to African Americans and Hispanic customers. Johnson & Johnson’s attorneys claimed that claimed that while it had known for years of its product’s propensity for causing cancer, it felt the risk too small to warrant a warning to the public.
In October 2013, a federal jury found Johnson & Johnson at fault in the first talcum powder lawsuit, a case of a South Dakota woman who developed ovarian cancer after having used the talcum-based product regularly for 30 years.
In July 2018, a Missouri jury awarded $4.69 billion to 22 women who claimed Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson and other talcum product manufacturers may be facing as many as 9,000 lawsuits for ovarian cancer. The company is also facing a federal class action lawsuit which seeks restitution, certification, punitive damages and the establishment of a corrective marketing campaign.
Based on the results of the 2018 jury trial award, many more talcum powder lawsuits may be expected. Women who developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder hygiene products may be eligible for compensation for medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering and future costs and should seek legal advice.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson Mount
Since the first trial that found Johnson & Johnson liable for medical injury caused by its talcum powder products, thousands of women have filed ovarian cancer lawsuits against the company. Several of these cases have gone to trial and juries have already awarded about $5 billion in damages to ovarian cancer victims.
Notable cases include:
- A 2013 South Dakota jury decided in favor of a woman who developed ovarian cancer.
- A 2016 award of $72 million to the family of a Missouri woman who died after using talcum powder for several decades.
- A 2016 award of $55 million to a Missouri woman who developed ovarian cancer and was required to undergo a number of surgeries, including a hysterectomy.
- A $70 million award in 2016 to a woman who had used Johnson & Johnson powder for 40 years and had an 80% chance of dying within 2 years.
- A 2017 Los Angeles jury awarded $417 million to a woman who developed terminal ovarian cancer after using talcum powder for a number of years.
- A 2017 jury in St. Louis, awarded $110 million to a woman who claimed she had used J&J talcum powder for 40 years which caused her ovarian cancer.
- A July 2018 Missouri jury award of $4.69 billion to 22 women who claimed talcum powder products caused their ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson is facing thousands of lawsuits but other manufacturers may be named as well. These include Colgate-Palmolive for its Cashmere Bouquet line and raw talc manufacturers Imerys Talc North America, Vanderbilt Minerals and Whitaker, Clark and Daniels.
Though a number of cases have been decided, thousands still remain in federal, state and local courts. Currently, J&J and other manufacturers are facing over 9,000 lawsuits but more may be expected.
More than 6,900 federal lawsuits have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey. New Jersey State Court in Atlantic County also has over 500 state lawsuits consolidated into multicounty litigation (MCL). State courts in both California and Missouri also have consolidated litigation with 800 California state cases in Los Angeles Superior Court and 1,700 Missouri state cases in St. Louis Circuit Court.
Women or family members of those who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using hygiene or personal care products containing talcum powder may be eligible for compensation for their injuries or for wrongful death. Past plaintiffs have been awarded damages or settlements to cover medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, future medical costs, and loss of consortium (ability to have intercourse). In some cases, if it can be proven that the company knew about the dangers of a product, plaintiffs may be awarded punitive damages, to punish the company, which can be much higher than other compensation.
Each case is unique but women or family members of those who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson or other talcum powder products should seek legal advice.
- Johnson & Johnson Told to Pay $4.7 Billion in Baby Powder Lawsuit, New York Times (6/2018)
- Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder, Reuters Investigates (12/2018)