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. Recently, 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.
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 recently, 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 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.
Because of improved refining practices talcum-based products have been free of asbestos over the last several decades. However, women who used them may still have been placed at a risk of ovarian cancer. When used in the genital region, talc molecules may travel through the vagina and uterus. This may progress into the Fallopian tubes and to the ovaries, where it may increase risk of ovarian cancer.
What is the Link Between Talc and Ovarian Cancer
Concern over the risk of ovarian cancer in users of talcum powder may have emerged as early as the 1970s. During this time, researchers found that 75% of ovarian cancer tumors they examined contained talc. 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.
Further, 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 estimated 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 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.
In addition to ovarian cancer risk, talc is well-known to raise the risk for respiratory ailments due to 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.
Johnson & Johnson Knew of Talcum Powder Risks
During discovery in talcum powder lawsuits, a 1997 memo was introduced showing that Johnson & Johnson knew of the danger of talc. The company 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.
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 after having tested the products multiple times between 1971 and 2003.
Bloomberg news reported that court documents showed that Johnson & Johnson handpicked scientists who had written a 2009 report dismissing concerns over talc. The FDA later used the dismissive report to deny a need for cancer warnings.
In 2019, Johnson & Johnson recalled one lot of baby powder after an FDA test found race levels of asbestos in the product. The company subsequently announced that it would no longer sell Johnsons Baby powder in the U.S. or Canada but continued to deny links to asbestos-type diseases like ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
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.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson Mount
Johnson & Johnson is still facing thousands of talcum powder 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. Additional lawsuits have been filed for links between talc products and mesothelioma.
Thousands of federal talcum powder 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 had over 500 state lawsuits consolidated into multicounty litigation (MCL). State courts in both California and Missouri also consolidated litigation with 800 California state cases in Los Angeles Superior Court and 1,700 Missouri state cases in St. Louis Circuit Court. Multiple class action lawsuits have been filed as well and medical injury cases.
Though a number of the talcum powder ovarian cancer cases have been decided, more than 36,000 lawsuits may still remain in federal, state, and local courts.
Are There Any Talcum Powder Lawsuit Settlements?
Since the first trial conducted in 2013, that found Johnson & Johnson liable for medical injury caused by its talcum powder products, thousands of women have filed talcum powder lawsuits against the company. Several of these cases have gone to trial and juries have already awarded about $6 billion in damages to ovarian cancer victims and another $150 million to mesothelioma patients.
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 2018 award of $117 million to a man who claimed that his mesothelioma was caused by talcum powder contaminated with asbestos.
- A May 2018 jury award of $25 million to a woman who claimed mesothelioma was caused by use of talcum powder on her children.
- A July 2018 Missouri jury award of $4.69 billion to 22 women who claimed talcum powder products caused their ovarian cancer.
- A March 2019 California jury award of $30 million to a woman who was diagnosed with mesothelioma after using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder.
In October 2020, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay about $100 million to settle over 1,000 lawsuits which claimed that asbestos contained in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products were linked to development of cancer. In June of 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Johnson & Johnsons’ request to overturn the $2.1 billion Missouri verdict.
After exceeding the $4 billion set aside for talc settlements, Johnson & Johnson has filed for reorganization through bankruptcy.
Filing a Talcum Powder Lawsuit
Women or family members of those who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, Show to Shower or other 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 and must be evaluated separately.