Talcum powder lawsuit, complications, ovarian cancer
The lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson involving its talcum powder have made headlines recently in the wake of several large jury verdicts against the company. The talcum powder has been alleged to have caused a large amount of mesothelioma and ovarian cancer cases among women, and some men, as there are claims that the powder contains asbestos. The company has been facing staggering liability that has knocked down its share price. Johnson & Johnson has already had awards of over $5 billion assessed against it and faces much more possible liability in the future as there are over 10,000 pending cases alleging a connection between its flagship product talcum powder and cancer. If you or a loved one believe that a case of cancer was caused by use of talc powder, you should immediately contact an attorney.
What is Talcum Powder?
Many people have come to associate Johnson & Johnson with baby powder. The product is made out of talc, which consists of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. The product is intended to remove excess moisture from the skin and keep it soft. The product is one of Johnson & Johnson’s highest grossing offerings on the market. According to Johnson & Johnson’s annual report, the Skin Care and Baby Care product segments were responsible for over $6 billion of revenues in 2017.
Links Between Talcum Powder and Cancer
However, it has been alleged that the talc powder contains asbestos in addition to its other ingredients. Notwithstanding Johnson & Johnson’s denials, talc and asbestos occur near each other in the ground. Many other products, such as Crayola crayons, that are made with talc, have also been shown to include traces of asbestos.
Although the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association issued voluntary guidance in 1976 that stated that talcum powder should be asbestos free, there have been many reports of cancer that has been linked to talc powder. Specifically, talcum powder has been alleged to be the cause of ovarian cancer in women. Normally, one in every 75 women will develop ovarian cancer over the course of their lifetime. However, usage of talc powder can increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer by roughly 33 percent according to a study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention.
Johnson & Johnson continues to sell talc-based powders despite the reports of the linkage to ovarian cancer. There has been nothing that has disproved the allegation of the causal relationship between talcum powder and cancer. Although the FDA did not find concrete traces of asbestos in talc when it tested in 2009, it pointedly refused to rule out the fact that talc powder could contain asbestos. The FDA has released no further studies even as the evidence that talc can cause cancer mounts. The World Health Organization has stated that genital use of talc baby powder as possibly carcinogenic although the Centers for Disease Control has not yet issued that finding.
Lawsuits Filed Against Johnson & Johnson
There have been a large number of claims that have been filed against Johnson & Johnson seeking compensation for harm that has allegedly been caused by talcum powder usage. Although Johnson & Johnson has won some of these cases, the number of verdicts against the company has been rising. Plaintiffs have won over $5 billion in awards against the company.
The complaints have alleged that Johnson & Johnson has known that its talc powder contains asbestos since 1973, which was two years after the first report of a linkage. However, according to the plaintiffs, Johnson & Johnson manipulated the test results to show that its products were safe. The presence of asbestos in the talc powder makes it dangerous and unfit for its ordinary use. The plaintiffs have claimed that not only did Johnson & Johnson know of the dangerous nature of its product, but it had the duty to warn its customers of the potential harms they could face from using the product and did not do so. Despite these known dangers, the company continued to sell the product.
The company had won many of the initial cases that were filed against it. However, the cases have recently been broadened to include allegations of asbestos in the powder. In addition, there are now claims that have been filed alleging that the talc powder causes mesothelioma in addition to ovarian cancer. In April 2018, Johnson & Johnson lost its first major lawsuit in this series of litigation when a jury awarded $117 million to a man suffering from mesothelioma. In addition, the company lost another case in California the following month.
Johnson & Johnson recently lost a landmark case in this series of lawsuits. In Missouri, 22 women filed suit against Johnson & Johnson, claiming that they developed ovarian cancer after using talc powder. After a five-week trial, the company was found to be liable for the cancer. The jury needed only 45 minutes of deliberations to assess $4.14 billion of punitive damages against the corporation. In addition, the jury found that the plaintiffs were entitled to $550 million in compensatory damages for a total award of $4.7 billion. The trial judge affirmed the jury’s verdict, but Johnson & Johnson has promised to appeal the verdict as its stock took a major hit on the news of the jury’s verdict.
Currently, there are over 10,000 claims pending against Johnson & Johnson related to talc powder. Although the tide appeared to have been turning, the company’s legal liability is far from a settled issue. The company recently did obtain a favorable verdict in a case in New Jersey as well another one in California. Nevertheless, the threat of the large liability that Johnson & Johnson faces has served to suppress the share price. There are many claims that are still pending and there is now some precedent for finding the company liable for the connection between talc powder and cancer.
When you contact an attorney to discuss your case, you can receive an assessment of your chances of obtaining compensation for any harm that you may have suffered by using talc powder. The attorney can advise you of your legal rights and can explain the process for achieving a legal remedy.
The links between talc powder and ovarian cancer are hotly disputed, even as the matter is well into litigation. There have been numerous scientific studies that have demonstrated that there is some linkage between the two. In addition, there have been some internal communications unearthed that have shown that Johnson & Johnson was at least informed about a possible connection between talc powder and ovarian cancer as far back as the late 1960s. Nevertheless, Johnson & Johnson continues to advance the results of its own research to deny that usage of talc powder causes cancer.
The first study that indicated that indicated a possible connection between talc powder and cancer was released in 1968. While the study did not conclude that there was a direct causation, it suggested that there may be a linkage between ovarian cancer and the usage of talc powder. This particular connection was due to the similarity between talc and asbestos and the possibility that talc powder could contain asbestos. The conclusion was reached as a result of animal research which showed that the application of talc powder made cells abnormal.
The next major study in this area was issued in 1971. The researchers studied samples of the tissue from patients who had ovarian cancer. While there were no asbestos particles spotted in any of the tissue extracted and studied, three quarters of the tumors surveyed were found to contain particles of talc powder. The study noted that talc and asbestos particles are often indistinguishable from each other in appearance.
The tumors had a similar “decoration pattern” to that of talc. In addition, talc particles were found to be deeply embedded within the tumors. This finding applied not just to ovarian tumors, but also to tumors that were located within the cervix. However, the proportion of cervical tumors that contained talc was slightly lower than that of the ovarian tumors. Talc particles were also found to be a part of breast tumors.
It is important to note that this study did not make a declaration that talc was responsible for the tumors. However, it did note the prevalence of talc within a majority of the tumors that were in the sample. This study did set the stage for further research work to be conducted in this area.
There was a larger study that was performed in 1982 by Dr. Daniel Cramer of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. undertook a study of the epidemiology of ovarian cancer. The researcher was not necessarily trying to establish a link between talc powder and ovarian cancer, but only to ascertain risk factors and biomarkers for the disease. Dr. Cramer concluded that one of the events that increased risk for ovarian cancer was cosmetic talcum powder use. Dr. Cramer studied over 400 women and concluded that the risk of cancer was increased both by cosmetic usage and well as through sprinkling talc powder on a sanitary napkin. He specifically looked at usage in the genital area when studying the possible links between talc powder and ovarian cancer.
Dr. Cramer argued that the fact that talc did not break down in the body meant that the particles could travel throughout the body. Specifically, they could move from the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovaries and cause tumors there. Dr. Cramer published several other studies examining the connection between the two. He also met with Johnson & Johnson executives to discuss the results of his study with them. Dr. Cramer has continued to publish research into this are for over 30 years. He has been retained as an expert witness in some of the lawsuits that have been filed against Johnson & Johnson.
The more recent research studies have also continued to advance this theory. From the outset of the research until 2008, there were no fewer than 16 studies that advanced some sort of tie between talc powder and ovarian cancer. One, undertaken in 2006, focused specifically on talc usage in the genital area as a potential cause for ovarian cancer.
In 2008, there was a study that cast some doubt on the linkage. A 2014 editorial stated that one of the problems in reaching a conclusion of a connection was the reporting bias involved. In other words, women who have ovarian cancer and believe that they contracted it after using talc would be more likely to report the cancer. In addition, talc content among products is not uniform and it is difficult to quantify how much talc each of the women who reported cancer used.
Other studies have reached differing results. A 2014 study of 61,000 women concluded that there was no link between talc powder and ovarian cancer. A 2016 study of 600 African-American women postulated that there was a moderate linkage. There is research that can be used by both sides of the argument.
One thing that is established is that Johnson & Johnson has long been aware that there is at least a potential connection between talc and cancer, notwithstanding its firm denial of the fact. In December 2018, Reuters issued a special report that covered the issue of what Johnson & Johnson knew and when they knew it. Reuters examined internal company documents that dated all the way back to 1971, which was when study results about possible ovarian cancer were just starting to be published. Reuters even found a mention of research results from the late 1950s that speculate about talc powder being tainted.
Johnson & Johnson subjects its own products to internal testing. At least some of the test results, including three in the early 1970s, have showed that talc powder contained some level of asbestos. However, the company has also received test results that have reached the opposite conclusion. While Johnson & Johnson has been confronted with its own internal documents that acknowledge that talc powder contains asbestos, they have attempted to explain it by saying that it is the industrial talc powder that contains asbestos. The company denies that its talc powder for personal use contains any asbestos.
The company had found tremolite and another mineral that can occur as asbestos as early as 1967. In 1971, a team of researchers had sent results of their own tests to Johnson & Johnson that found asbestos in talc powder. However, Johnson & Johnson argued that their talc contained only traces of asbestos and that any suggestions to the contrary were part of a concerted campaign by company opponents hostile to the use of talc. What is clear is that the possibility that asbestos is carcinogenic is not a new one and is an issue that the company has been dealing with for over 50 years no matter how vehemently it denies the linkage.
Upcoming Trials Involving Talc
In the meantime, Johnson & Johnson faces nearly 12,000 lawsuits by women who claim that they were harmed by using talc powder. In one case, Johnson & Johnson settled a talc powder claim for the first time. The company paid $1.5 million to a woman from New York City. If these numbers were extrapolated across all of its cases, the company could be facing close to $20 billion of potential liability. Nevertheless, the company denied that this case portended that it would be pursuing a global settlement with all of the plaintiffs in the case.
According to Bloomberg, 21 cases involving talc powder are slated to go to trial in 2019. A majority of these cases will be in front of juries in California. One case involves a man who recently died from an asbestos-related cancer. His claim states that he used talc powder for 30 years, which led to the cancer. In addition, there is a case being tried that involves 24 women who claim that they were sickened by talc powder. If they prevail on their claim, it could set the stage for another large jury verdict.
The debate rages on as not only academics, but juries as well, have taken differing views of whether use of talc powder causes cancer. This is not likely an issue that will be resolved anytime soon. In the meantime, lawyers for both the plaintiffs and defense will be seeking to persuade juries of their side of the argument. Still, women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer should consider whether or not they have used talc genitally at any time. If the answer is yes, they should immediately seek out a lawyer even if juries have not yet come to a unanimous conclusion that talc powder is to blame for ovarian cancer.